Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway won’t be remembered fondly by those associated with Hendrick Motorsports or its fans.
The team that normally dominates the NASCAR Sprint Cup series suffered the worst combined finish for its four cars since 2005 as all four finished outside the top 25.
The first was Jeff Gordon who was swept up in a crash on lap 6 when Bobby Labonte in his first race for Phoenix Racing, spun exiting turn two snagging Gordon in the process and sending both cars into the wall.
“I had to guess and I guessed the wrong way. I didn’t really have anywhere to go,” Gordon said. “But I just can’t believe the way this season is going for us. It seems like we can run all day long when we can’t get the car right but when we finally get the car right, something like this happens. At Charlotte, I thought our car was awesome and I was really pleased with the way the car took off right there. We were really going to march up through the field. It’s unfortunate. This team just continues to have to face adversity and I appreciate how strong they are during it, but I just wish we didn’t all have to be tested quite this much.”
Gordon would later return but finished the day scored in 39th. The next was Kasey Kahne. Kahne took the lead from fellow Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 90. Kahne then looked to be the car to beat, but on lap 104 while enjoying over a two second lead, Kahne’s Chevy suddenly shot up the wall entering turn 1and crashed hard; the car caught fire and slid down the wall through turn three before coming to a stop. Kahne was able get out and was uninjured, but his day was done.
“We were just cruising,” Kahne said. “We had a really good Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. I knew it was going to be a battle with Jimmie (Johnson) today. He’s fast and I thought we were really good. We were on the loose side but I think we could have tightened it up a little bit more and gotten a little bit better. But I felt really good about it.”
Despite the crash and being scored 38th at the end of the day, Kahne’s mind was on his friend and fellow NASCAR competitor Jason Leffler who was killed in short track accident the Wednesday prior.
“I know it’s been a tough week for a lot of people,” he said his voice filling with emotion. “Jason Leffler was a good buddy of mine and it’s neat to see how the racing world and the fans and his friends and everybody has supported him for the last four or five days. That showed the person and the racer that he was. I’m just glad I could say he was one of my good friends.”
On the track, Earnhardt Jr. took over the lead, but he too had problems when the engine in his Chevy began to sour, then blow on lap 131 sending him to the garage and leaving him with a 37th place finish.
“There was no warning at all even after I think we lost a cylinder,” Earnhardt said. “The gauges all looked really good. Flipped all the switches I could flip and nothing was really making a difference. We just had something come apart in the motor.”
That left Jimmie Johnson to carry the Hendrick flag. Johnson led three times for a total of 18 laps battling back from being as far down as 32nd at one point and in the final laps looked to be closing quickly on leader Greg Biffle. With less than nine to go, Johnson passed second place Kevin Harvick and set his sights on Biffle. With two to go however, the right front tire let go on his Chevy and Johnson scraped the wall exiting turn 2.
“I guess just running that hard trying to get through traffic and get to the No. 16 (Biffle) we wore through the right-front,” Johnson said. “I’m kind of shocked because we didn’t have any issues. The No. 5 (Kahne) had some problem, but that was kind of a weird thing to happen there.”
Johnson would finish 28th uncharacteristic finish for Hendrick considering he was the highest finisher among the four teams.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but everybody did have some form of trouble,” he said. “I think all of our cars were fast.”
Nonetheless Johnson tried to put a positive spin on the day for Hendrick Motorsports.
“There is a silver lining in it,” he said. “At least we weren’t running 25th with problems that makes it all the worse. We have fast race cars and I’m proud of everybody at Hendrick.”
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