News & Media


Spins, scrapes and struggles ... oh my!

June 20, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Hendrick has no bright lights after entire cadre of drivers finds trouble at Michigan

Hendrick Motorsports had a day at Michigan International Speedway that's hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Jimmie Johnson spun out eight laps into the race. Jeff Gordon struggled all day with an ill-handling car. And just to make sure everyone participated equally in the misery, Mark Martin collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr. with less than 15 laps remaining.

"He is older than me, been racing forever and knows a lot more than I'll ever get, or he has forgotten more stuff than I'll never know. Still, I take better care of people than that."

--DALE EARNHARDT JR.

"Tough day," Johnson said in an understatement. It wasn't a matter of what could possibly go wrong for a Hendrick car in Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. It was more of what could possibly happen next?

"The defining moment probably was getting run into the wall by Mark," Junior said. "We had fixed the car, we were moving forward and we were doing pretty well at that point, but, you can't do nothing about getting run over or getting run into the wall."

Already frustrated after bouncing off the wall near the end of a long green-flag run, Earnhardt was able to get the No. 88 Chevy repaired, thanks to a few swings of the sledgehammer on the left rear wheel well. However, the later incident with Martin eventually led to a cut tire, a 21st-place finish and some harsh words.

"I got on the outside of Mark and he just came on up and drove us into the fence off the corner," Junior said. "I don't know if his spotter wasn't spotting good or whether he just couldn't see good or what, but [he] just ran us slap into the wall. I don't know how else to explain it other than that.

"It blowed the right front tire out eventually. We had got the car pretty good at that point and were kind of moving forward. I don't know, man, you know? The car went away from us in the middle of the race. I guess we can try to get our stuff together and go back the next week and try to see what we can do."

Earnhardt said he expected more awareness from a veteran driver like Martin.

"I perceived that he didn't know I was on the outside [of him]," Earnhardt said. "He knew I was up there, but he was just running hard. If the tables were turned, I would have been smarter and given him plenty of room, [more] than he did me.

"He is older than me, been racing forever and knows a lot more than I'll ever get, or he has forgotten more stuff than I'll never know. Still, I take better care of people than that."

About 10 minutes later and after talking to Martin, Earnhardt got an explanation he could accept.

"I want to finish where I'm supposed to finish, and that really didn't happen today, so I was real PO'd about it," Earnhardt said. "Mark came and gave me a good explanation and I believe it and it's the end of it. ... I got the air screwed up around him and he got real tight off of [Turn] 2 and pushed into the wall.

"He was off the gas when we got together. There was nothing he could do."

Martin accepted the blame for not realizing Earnhardt was that close.

"I would have given him room if I'd known he was there," Martin said. "It was too late. I had my front wheels cut and I let off the gas and that's all I could do at that point. My mistake. My mistake.

"I don't have a history of having problems. I don't think I have one now. ... I feel like I give everybody on the race track respect. I made a mistake."

None of the four Hendrick cars qualified particularly well but had run near the top of the leaderboard in practice. But before the fans had even settled back into their seats after the start of the race, Johnson spun coming out of Turn 2. With a flat right-front tire, Johnson was able to limp back to the pits. But in doing so, he created another problem.

"We got turned around early and ground the sway bar off the right front," Johnson said.

The No. 48 team removed the damaged part and replaced the tire but not before the pace car passed by on the track, putting Johnson a lap down. A debris caution 20 laps later put Johnson in a position to get his lap back but crew chief Chad Knaus opted to replace the sway bar, an extensive process that left the No. 48 two laps behind the leaders.

Johnson was competitive the rest of the way but with just five cautions in all, he wound up 27th.

"We lost a couple laps from that and we were just kind of in a hole at that point and couldn't get caught back up," Johnson said.

Gordon missed most of the fireworks but had his own issues, mainly a car that refused to handle. He started 31st and was mired in the back of the pack for much of the day. He eventually broke into the top 10 with 40 laps remaining, but couldn't maintain that position, sliding back to 17th at the conclusion of the event.

Sporting News Wire Service contributed to this report.