It was another week of frustration for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday night. Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne both suffered issues that left them with terrible finishes, caused in large part by teammate Jeff Gordon. Gordon meanwhile needed a win to make the Chase but fell a little short and will need luck along with a stellar run at Richmond this Saturday night.
The only Hendrick driver to have a decent outing was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who can breathe a little easier.
The trouble began early. On a restart after a competition caution on lap 31, Gordon starting on the outside of leader Juan Pablo Montoya, lost grip and slowed dramatically. The resulting accordion effect stacked up the field behind him.
Johnson got into the back of Jeff Burton while Kahne got into the back of Johnson. Although damaged, Johnson was able to continue, while Kahne went to the garage trailing water and oil from his Chevy.
Gordon also suffered some slight damage but was able to continue. Johnson was forced to pit a total of seven times over the ensuing laps. Finally on lap 288 Johnson’s bad night got worse when he again hit Burton who was slowing to pit. Johnson spun but was able to avoid contact. From that point however Johnson was never able to fully recover; he finished the night 28th, four laps down.
After repairs Kahne returned to the race but he was scored 36th, 33 laps down. Gordon meanwhile fared much better. He would lead a total of 17 laps but fell short of the win and in the end finished 6th.
“It just got away from us a little bit,” Gordon said. “You know, the track changed quite a bit and we just couldn’t battle up front there for the lead and for the win like I thought we could have. Little disappointed in that, but a great effort by the team all weekend long.”
Earnhardt suffered slight damage in the lap 31 incident but avoided trouble the rest of the evening and finished 8th.
“I was real thankful the car was as good as it was,” Earnhardt said. “We have struggled here and not ran great here the last several trips. It’s so hard and it’s such a struggle to get a car that has a good balance and we did.”
The point’s situation for the Hendrick teams, like their race, was both bad and good. Gordon moved up two spots to the bubble position of 11th, only six points out of 10th, but without a win he will need a strong finish at Richmond to have any hopes of making the Chase.
“We are going to have to just perform at a high level,” Gordon said. “But our position doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s who we are racing and who we are going to go battle and really most of it is just us doing what we have to do. Just like we have done the last two weeks we have done a good job, but we can do better. In Richmond I think we are probably going to have to do better, but we do have a shot.”
Kahne fell four spots to 12th but with two wins is still atop the wild card race; Johnson became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase while Earnhardt has a better than average chance of making into the Chase next week at Richmond he’s seventh in the points. The only driver who might not make it in is Gordon, who certainly isn’t giving up.
“I am having fun,” Gordon said. “These last couple weeks we have been battling and passing and having a great time out there and that is all we can ask for. We didn’t do enough of that earlier in the year and that is why we are in the position we are in.”