Hendrick Garage: Repercussions from 'Dega

No. 88 crew chief Steve Letarte at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Team Hendrick dominated the news late last week and not for the reasons they'd have preferred. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sought treatment for a concussion he sustained during the massive crash at Talladega last week, which came on the heels of an injury incurred during a crash at the Kansas tire test. As a result, the Bank of America 500 became the first Cup race since September 1979 without an Earnhardt behind the wheel.

With Regan Smith in the No. 88 for Charlotte and Kansas, Earnhardt Jr.'s shot at the Sprint Cup Championship is officially over, but what would the last night race of the season mean to the other Hendrick teams?

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 

Starting the race from the fifth position, the night was rather uneventful for Kasey Kahne. The No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevy ran in the top five much of the night but just didn't quite have the speed to contend for the win, finishing in eighth.

He's now fifth in points, 35 behind leader Brad Keselowski. Of the next five tracks on the circuit, Kahne has wins at two of them, so while he may not overtake the leader, he should put up a good fight.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 

No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Credit: Charlotte Bray 
Jeff Gordon qualified in 13th and cracked the top ten a couple of times during the first half of the race, but his string of great finishes came to an end. He had a so-so night at a time when he can't afford to have anything other than a stellar one.

The No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet faced handling issues that required a number of adjustments but any gains the team made were offset by  penalty Gordon incurred on Lap 219 for being too fast exiting the pits.

He fought to get back on the lead lap, but was unsuccessful and the 18th-place finish effectively ends Gordon's championship hopes, as he dropped to ninth in the standings, 50 points back of the leader.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Pre-race consultation.
Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
"Went in a bunch of circles, and we're done. And I made it on fuel." was Johnson's comment after the fuel-mileage duel at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Once a regular in victory lane at the track considered NASCAR's home track, Johnson hasn't won there since 2009. He finished third Saturday night.

Starting from fifth and running up front much of the night, the No. 48 MyLowes team began saving fuel from Lap 11. "I did a good job (saving fuel). We started saving double the distance, so I knew we were going to be fine. We were just being really cautious," Johnson explained. "We didn't want to go up there and chase the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin), and get ourselves in trouble. We're getting a lot better at this fuel mileage racing. It is a tough thing to do. We've worked hard to get it right. We're still not the best car out there at it, but we're making it work week-in and week-out. It's part of the game right now for whatever reason. Happy to have this MyLowes car third, and glad to gain some on the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. We'll go to the next one. This thing is still wide open for anybody."

Johnson closed to within seven points of the No. 2 team. With five races to go in the Chase, the Sprint Cup doesn't have anyone's name on it yet, but with the No. 48 team learning to master the fuel mileage challenge, it's going to take whole lot of skill and more than a little luck to keep Five-Time from becoming Six-Time Champion.

Regan Smith anticipating the Bank of America 500
Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs 
Regan Smith, No. 88

When he woke up Thursday morning, Regan Smith's plans were to drive the No. 51 for James Finch for the first time. His plans changed rapidly when Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. decided Smith would be the best choice to fill in for Charlotte and Kansas. With typical Hendrick professionalism, the No. 88 team led by Steve Letarte made the necessary changes to the car and worked to communicate with Smith on what he needed from the car.

Qualifying 26th in undoubtedly the best car he's driven in Sprint Cup, Smith gave Letarte and the team clear, specific feedback on how the car handled. Letarte and spotter T.J. Majors let Smith know he was doing well. Unfortunately, on a pit stop Smith let the team know he thought he might have hurt the engine by revving it too high. Letarte dismissed the thought, saying that the way they ran their chip it was't likely, yet on Lap 62, after taking over tenth place, No. 88 belched smoke and was quickly diagnosed as terminal. Letarte chose to go to the garage to check the car to be sure the failure had no implications for the other teams.

“We had a really fast race car." Smith said. "We had a good first adjustment there, went just a little too far with it and got a little too free. Needed one more stop, and I think we would have had it dialed in and then just chased the weather from that point on. It’s disappointing. It’s a good team, it’s a good car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job. I’m looking forward to next week. We get three days to test when we get there to Kansas, and we will see if we can get the AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet up front there. I feel confident we will have the same speed we had here.”
Hendrick Garage: Repercussions from 'Dega Hendrick Garage: Repercussions from 'Dega Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, October 14, 2012 Rating: 5