Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hendrick Garage: Phoenix

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images
After a one and two finish in Daytona, the Hendrick Garage rolled into Phoenix looking for back to back wins.

Three of the four Hendrick drivers had top five starting spots while the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. would roll off the grid in 21st position.

The No. 5 of Kasey Kahne started his day from the outside pole. During the first 21 laps he would stay in the second position and when the first caution of the day came out Kahne opted to stay out. Throughout the day, he would complain about loose- handling conditions eventually slipping back to eighth. On Lap 181, Kahne made contact with the wall and his crew fixed the damaged right rear fender. He would finish the day in 19th.

For the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon, his day was at ease and quiet. Last time in Phoenix, Gordon and Clint Bowyer got into a fight and he certainly didn't want a repeat of that.

Gordon’s day was spent  running inside the top 10 and like most drivers today he reported loose handling conditions. With the final laps clicking away and saving fuel, he battled his way into a ninth place finish.

“It drove good,"Gordon said on his car." It was definitely challenging, this is probably not the best track to judge by. This track is tough, flat and doesn't lend itself to the best racing that we have on the series. Yet, I thought on the long run when the tires gave up a little bit you could start searching around, making some moves. Track position was key. We knew that coming in.”

Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson looked to be hungry for another win. He even had a little practice competing in the Nationwide race yesterday. The No. 48 started the day third and would spend most of the day in the top five. On Lap 53, while everyone took two tires, crew chief Chad Knaus opted for four tires. Johnson would restart all the way back in 18th; on Lap 125 he was back into the top five.

On Lap 232, Johnson was running a close second to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. He looked to be faster than Earnhardt Jr. on some corners but just couldn't take the lead. As the final laps ticked away, Johnson would chase down Carl Edwards but just couldn't take the lead, much like with his teammate earlier. On the final lap, Johnson and Denny Hamlin had a hard battle for second place - the two rubbed coming to the green flag. It was a close finish with Johnson having the edge and beating Hamlin to take second.

“Yeah, definitely a good performance,” said Johnson.” First pit stop we went with four and nobody else did, and we lost a lot of track position and realized then that the game here, it was going to be a little bit different than what we had expected. That was our last four-tire stop that we made. That was really key to keep track position.”

Starting 21st on the grid for the No.88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. would make his day seem long. His car was tight and instead of going forward he was going backwards. On Lap 100, crew chief Steve Letarte called for a two-tire stop which gained his driver a number of spots coming out of the pits.

On Lap 154, the No. 88 got out front and he would go on to the lead 47 laps until the caution came out. Upon completion of his pit stop, Earnhardt Jr. was upset that Casey Mears had blocked him on pit road, causing him to come out second. During the restart, Earnhardt Jr. spun his tires which sent him to third. He would maintain his position in the top five from there going on to finish his day fifth.

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