Hendrick Garage: Chasers score three top 5s at New Hampshire

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With all four of the Hendrick drivers in the Chase, there's a lot to watch and report, so this week Skirts and Scuffs team member L.J. Cloud joins Lacy Keyser in the Hendrick Garage. Lacy covered the No. 48 and the No. 88, while L.J. kept up with the No. 5 and the No. 24.

How did the Hendrick Motorsports teams fare at the Miracle Mile? Were they able to maintain position or did anyone drop out of contention?

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 

After finishing second last weekend, Jimmie Johnson came to Loudon full of momentum. Starting 20th, he was going to have to race hard early to get to the front. By Lap 33 the No. 48 was in 11th; when the competition caution came out crew chief Chad Knaus called for two right-side tires. Restarting ninth, Johnson was on a mission the front.

When green-flag stops occurred on Lap 105, Johnson finally cracked the top five. On Lap 110 he led for one lap then hit pit road for his stop; after getting four tries and gas Johnson came out sixth. Throughout the day Johnson kept his position inside the top five.

With 55 laps remaining in the race Johnson still trailed leader Denny Hamlin. He was trying as hard as he could to catch the leader when caution came out with 29 to go. This was Johnson’s chance -with the field bunched up Johnson could steal the lead.

But Hamlin’s 11 car was just too fast for the No.48 of Johnson. Still, although he finished second, Johnson took over the points lead. Is he on his way to his #6pack?

“(We’re) leaving the track that's been fair for me with an above-average finish and going to a track that I love next weekend.” said Johnson. "I hope to get a great finish (there).”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No.88

Starting 14th Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoped for a fast No. 88 that could quickly gain him positions. Within the first 10 laps he was cracking the top 10; when the competition caution came out he hit pit road. The pit stop lasted longer than expected because Earnhardt Jr. got into his stall way too deep, which cost him positions. He came in eighth and restarted 20th.

From there Earnhardt Jr’s. day was spent driving an ill-handling car. It was too tight or too loose. No matter the adjustments crew chief Steve Letarte made, the No.88 just wouldn’t get the speed driver and crew chief wanted.

When the final caution came out, Earnhardt Jr. pitted. Coming out, he knew he had to gain as many points as he could if he wanted to stay alive in the Chase. With the final nine laps Earnhardt Jr. raced hard and would go on to finish 13th. He didn’t lose positions in the points but he didn’t gain either; he’s still seventh in the point standings.

“We worked real, real hard,” said Earnhardt Jr. on his car problems.” We just didn’t get anything out of it. We just didn’t have a good car all weekend. For whatever reason, I don’t know. This car was just not very good.”

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Starting in sixth place for his 18th race at Loudon, Kasey Kahne turned in a solid performance. He didn't have quite the speed of his Hendrick teammates Johnson and Gordon, but he also didn't have as severe of handling problems as Earnhardt Jr. did, either. The No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy stayed consistently in the top ten throughout the race. Kahne came home in fifth place and dropped one spot to fifth in points.

Kahne said his race was decent, but he thought that the car was on the splitter some and chattered the front tires. The long green runs didn't help since they didn't have the time to adjust as well as they needed under green. "We missed it a little bit yesterday, so we had to throw some things at it today just off of Friday and Saturday. The guys did a really good job. It was solid race for us. We weren't quite as fast as we would have liked. Denny (Hamlin) was really good like everybody expected. But, our Farmers Insurance team did a great job again. We'll just get ready for Dover next week. Looking forward to that.”

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

After a frustrating week at Chicagoland, one that could keep him from winning the championship, Jeff Gordon needed to reach into his four-time champion's bag of tricks and pull out a great performance at NHMS. Winning the pole gave him an important advantage: pit stall choice. Getting the first stall made a huge difference in Gordon's day as the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy battled handling issues that dropped him as far back as 10th at one point. But Alan Gustafson refused to allow those issues to keep his driver from getting back to the front and Gordon brought home a third-place finish behind teammate Jimmie Johnson.

"You're never happy with anything other than a win." Gordon said. "You know I felt like we got the most out of it.  I felt like we were about the fourth or fifth‑place car and we came home third.  I felt like we did our job today and that's what you have to do.  That's what good teams do:  On the days that you're capable of winning, you'd better go win, and on the days that you're third, you'd better finish third or better.  Today I felt like we were a fifthplace car and we finished third.  So we did our job." 

Gordon and Johnson were also asked about the performance of the No. 11. Their responses came with the timing of a well-rehearsed comedy routine.

Q.  "Did anybody have anything for Hamlin...once he got to the point in clean air, was anybody going to catch him?"

GORDON:  "No."
JOHNSON:  "No.  Kept waiting for him to make a mistake, he did a good job."
GORDON:  "I don't think that thing slid its tires all day."
JOHNSON:  "Never slipped."

Q.  "How can one guy be that dominant?  Seemed like he was the only guy who could pass out there when he wanted to?"
JOHNSON:  "I noticed his rear end moving.  There was like extra skew or something in his rear end.  Let's start that whole mess again.  (Laughter)."
GORDON:  "I'm not sure they know what to look for."

Hendrick Garage: Chasers score three top 5s at New Hampshire Hendrick Garage: Chasers score three top 5s at New Hampshire Reviewed by Lacy Page on Monday, September 24, 2012 Rating: 5