Hendrick trio crashes; J.J. clinches Chase spot
August 11, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- For a driver with lots of fond memories of the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course, four-time Glen race winner Jeff Gordon might rather forget his trip to Western New York this weekend.
So might his teammate Kasey Kahne and his other teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 34th and 30th respectively. It was a rough drive through the scenic hillside for NASCAR’s premier Hendrick Motorsports team, which left with three pretty banged up Chevy SS Gen-6 race cars. And bruised egos.
Gordon and Kahne free-fell four positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings as a result. Four races remain to set the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff field. Gordon, who is winless, is now 13th and unless he scored a victory in the next month, must climb back into the guaranteed top 10 in the standings.
Kahne, who won last week at Pocono, Pa., dropped to 12th place, his pair of victories put him in the top Wild Card position.
The lone bright spot for the team in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen was Jimmie Johnson, who finished eighth, clinched at least a Wild Card in the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and took a whopping 75-point lead over Clint Bowyer atop the Sprint Cup Series standings.
He summed up the range of emotions.
“Sux (sic) all my teammates were unlucky,’’ the five-time NASCAR champ Johnson posted on Twitter following the race.
The start of the weekend may have been a harbinger of things to come. None of the four drivers -- normally contenders for a win here -- had particularly good qualifying showings. Johnson and Kahne’s 18th and 19th place starts were the best of the group.
Gordon, had a disappointing 28th-place qualifying effort, spun and crashed his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet hard into the guardrail on lap 14 while racing Denny Hamlin back in the field.
The team frantically made repairs to the car and after returning to the race Gordon improved six positions to finish 36th and he was clearly still miffed after the race.
“Fight hard,’’ Gordon said of recovering from this uncharacteristically poor road course showing. “Just keep working to go to the next race and qualify better, execute better and not make mistakes. That was my mistake. That was on me today. We can’t have stuff like that happen.’’
Kahne and Earnhardt’s fates intertwined with only eight laps remaining. After getting spun out in a chain-reaction accident triggered by Matt Kenseth and Marcos Ambrose, Kahne’s No. 5 Farmer’s Chevy ended up across the track and was hit by Earnhardt who was trying to avoid the smoking, spinning melee.
“I probably could have lifted and waited on the 5 (Kahne) and see where he was going to go, but I went where there wasn’t a car and he was in the throttle real hard and just kind of John Force’d it (like a drag racer) across the racetrack in front of us,” Earnhardt said.
“I knew (when we) get a late caution like that, man, you’re just drawing a pill in the lottery to make it through the rest of the race at that point.
“So I’m not too upset … because it was going to happen to somebody.”
“We had a good car,” he said. “I was surprised we were running as good as we did. We did not run any better position-wise, but normally we’re in the damn way.
“And today we were kind of making moves, passing guys and working hard around everybody.”