Trouble snares Hendrick quartet at Michigan
June 16, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jeff Gordon couldn’t avoid a spinning Bobby Labonte.
Kasey Kahne slammed the wall in Turn 2.
And Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed 400 miles out of his car’s engine. He got only 262.
Leaving it up to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to haul the mail and save the day.
Johnson, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, entered Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway with 63 career wins. None had come at the 2-mile MIS.
And although he was closing on race leader Greg Biffle with less than 10 laps remaining, a flat tire inside the final five laps sent Johnson to pit road. He finished 28th.
“We cut a right-front tire there at the end,” Johnson said, leaning back against the No. 48 entry as his crew scurried around in the background, preparing the car for the journey back to the team’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
“I guess just running that hard trying to get through traffic and get to the No. 16 (of Biffle), we wore through the right-front. I’m kind of shocked because we didn’t have any issues (before that).
“Our strategy was throwing some challenges at us … and we just struggled with maintaining track position. But we had a fast car and I could drive up through there. As soon as I’d get to first or second, a caution would come out and then something would happen again and we’d lose track position.”
The 28th-place finish was the worst of the season for Johnson, but not enough to knock him off his perch atop the points standings. He leads Carl Edwards, who finished eighth, by 31.
As for the remainder of the HMS fleet?
Gordon was able to return after extensive repairs following his lap-6 incident, but fell five spots, to 16th in the points, with the 39th-place result.
Labonte “just did one of those slow spins where I couldn’t tell which direction he was going to go,” Gordon said, “so I had to guess and I guessed the wrong way. I didn’t really have anywhere to go.”
Kahne was leading when his No. 5 Chevrolet slid up the track and into the Turn 2 wall. The car briefly caught fire, but Kahne, uninjured, was able to exit without any issues.
“I would say it was a tire that went down, but I don’t know for sure,” said Kahne, who lost four points positions after finishing 38th. “I just was going into the corner and then it' 'boom' and turned right went straight into the wall.
“Things were working out. I thought it was going to be between myself and Jimmie. We both had two really fast cars.”
Earnhardt Jr. had led 23 consecutive laps before his car’s engine began to sour -- less than 30 laps after the Kahne incident. The 37th-place finish dropped him three spots in the standings, to seventh.
Off the pace a day earlier in practice, Earnhardt Jr. said he was “proud” of the work done by crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team to get the car turned around.
“They made a lot of great changes. And that car was just flying at the end there,” he said.
That speed was perhaps a silver lining for the group on an otherwise forgettable day.
“At least we weren’t running 25th with problems, that makes it all the worse,” Johnson said. “We have fast race cars and I’m proud of everybody at Hendrick.”