Monday, October 22, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Kansas


The No. 48 crew repairs the car after Johnson's accident.
Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images  
by Lacy Keyser and Lisa Janine Cloud

With three of the Team Hendrick drivers mathematically still in the Chase, the newly repaved track at Kansas posed a  threat to their championship hopes. Regan Smith wanted to show his abilities after having blown an engine last week.

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

The Farmer's Insurance Chevy showed how fast it was by claiming the Coors Light Pole award on Friday with a new track record of 191.36 mph. But track conditions changed radically between qualifying and the green flag with the temperature warming 10-15 degrees. Kasey Kahne didn't get a particularly good start and by the end of Lap one his lead was long gone. He managed to stay near the front most of the race, even as high as second, but in the end trying to conserve fuel almost cost him a good finish when the car was slow to re-fire after he cut the engine under caution.

Kahne said, "It just wouldn't re-fire. Disappointing. But we got through there. We had a good car; we got back to fourth. We passed a lot of cars there. The Farmers Insurance Chevrolet team did an awesome job. Great pit stops; great pit calls. A lot of tire and fuel strategy... Our guys did a really nice job. I had an awesome car. It was a little loose there taking off. It was coming to me and getting good there at the end. We just weren't close enough at that point in time. But still, a solid day."

The team's efforts reaped a fourth-place finish and kept Kahne fifth in points, still within mathematical reach of the championship.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

While Jeff Gordon qualified middle-of-the-pack in 19th, the No. 24 DuPont Chevy ran fast enough to put him into the top five by Lap 120. Despite tire issues from the debris field that doubled as a race track, he managed to stay near the front and even lead a couple of laps. While Gordon never actually contended for the win, he still ran well enough to bring the car home 10th. Now sitting in eighth in the points standings, he is 51 points back from the leader with no realistic hope of winning his fifth championship. The goal now is to finish as high in the points as possible. 

Post-race, Gordon was asked about the track conditions. “It wasn’t that bad," he said. "It was hard to pass. You just couldn't reach the edge of the grip level really easy. My car stuck pretty good so I had pretty decent grip on the restarts and we were able to make up some spots. We did pretty good strategy so all in all it was a decent day for us. I thought we could pull off a top five at one point, but we just didn't.” 

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Jimmie Johnson wanted nothing more than to steal the points lead from Brad Keselowski. Coming to Kansas, Johnson hoped to win or gain points on Keselowski.

On Lap 11 when he gave up the lead for a green flag stop, Johnson’s luck took a turn for the worse when the caution flag came out on his stop.  He had to take the wave around and start in the back, but the No. 48 car was fast so that was not a problem.

For the most part, from the moment the green flag dropped Johnson’s car was on a mission to the front. By Lap 45 he was second. After a fast two-tire stop, he lined up on the inside of the front row. With a great restart, Johnson took the lead in hopes of gaining points on Keselowski.

On Lap 136 Johnson spun and hit the wall, bending in the back end of his No. 48.  The crew got busy hammering and fixing his car. During all these repairs Johnson stayed on the lead lap. 

Even when things seemed to be race-ending for Johnson, he bounced back and ended up finishing ninth, still second in points.

Johnson's take on the race: “I’m just now getting a chance to look at the damage on the car and it’s pretty severe. One, I’m impressed that they fixed it as they did and got the spoiler and deck lid back in place. Two, I’m surprised that the car was as fast as it was. It drove fine through the turns. I could tell on the straightaway that I didn’t have the efficiency and I can see why with this left-rear quarter-panel. It’s blown out; a big parachute sticking in the wind. So, all things considered, without my mistake, I think we had a shot to win."

"And then even after that we had a great pit stop and came out up in the top five or six probably, but we had some issues with getting fuel in the car and I had to go to tail-end and still got back to ninth. So, I’m proud of myself for all but one corner. Everything else today and this weekend was really good except for one corner. And truthfully, I was just trying to get inside the No. 56 (Martin Truex Jr.). He was loose in front of me. I could see his car moving around and I was trying to put some pressure on him and his car bobbled. When his car bobbled, I jumped on the gas hopeful to get an opportunity and mine took off, just quick, just gone. So that was the crash.”

Regan Smith, No.88

Regan Smith was still filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr.,  hoping to get noticed and get a ride for the rest of this year and next year. Smith hoped to have a good day.  

Starting in 39th Smith, had to race his way to the front. The No.88 looked fast as he gained positions. He showed what he’s made of and that he could come back from the back and turn his day around.

Smith ended his day seventh, proving that starting in the back can be fun by getting a top-ten finish. Hopefully Smith can find a ride. Having him drive the No. 88 has been great.

“The track conditions were difficult," Smith said. "I think a lot of it was just over done by guys maybe not being smart on restarts, from what I saw. Everybody was fighting for the bottom. You didn’t want to lose positions on the top side, but then the top side would come in as runs would go on so that was kind of weird. All the guys on the National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevy did a hell of a job these past two weeks. We had arguably a better car last week had we had a chance to run the whole race. It’s been nice to be able to step in and have them treat me like their normal driver.  I know Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) is excited to get back so that is going to be good for him. Looking forward to whatever comes next for me.”

I know JR Nation has been thankful to have Smith fill in for Earnhardt Jr.

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