TMS Media Relations | Oct 07, 2014
After Jeff Gordon got his win at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 27, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said he was “getting too old for this,” referring to the drama and stress that came during the third and final race of the opening Challenger round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Based on the performance from his four teams in the first race of the Contender round, perhaps he may not bear to watch the final race at Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks.
Each of the four Hendrick Motorsports teams struggled at Kansas Speedway on Sunday and three of them, including six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (12th, -27 points), find themselves on the outside of the top eight transfer group. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th, -25 points), along with Kasey Kahne (9th, -8 points), join Johnson on the outside looking in while the only Hendrick Motorsports driver currently in the transfer group, Jeff Gordon (+8 points), occupies the eighth and final spot.
It was from a variety of unfortunate events that doomed NASCAR’s most decorated team. Jamie McMurray lost control of his car and got into Gordon on Lap 83 and just two laps later Greg Biffle tagged Johnson from behind, putting him into the wall on Lap 85. Both Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. ran into tire issues, Earnhardt Jr.’s coming while leading the race.
“I don’t know, just the whole surface of the tire unwound like a string,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The whole cap came off. Must have been a recap. Man that was a great race car…this is the car that we won Pocono with both times.”
It wasn’t just the Hendrick powerhouse that caught the brunt of bad luck in Kansas. Sharing Earnhardt’s tire frustration was 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski (10th, -22 points) after experiencing his own woes on Lap 160 and also finding himself outside of the top eight in the championship points standings.
“It’s a game of Russian roulette and it was our turn at the gun and Dale Jr.’s turn at the gun earlier,” Keselowski said. “We’ve seen signs of this (tire wear) for three seasons racing here. Aerodynamics in racing today has gotten out of control. The specs for tires aren’t designed to handle that. You can point fingers at that – either way, there’s no margin. When you have no margin, small variables are going to get someone and like I said it was just our day at the gun.”
Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, said they would talk with the teams to see if they made any adjustments and try to understand what was different about the runs that brought down the right front tires for Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski.
“Obviously in a race like this in the Chase, everybody’s on top of the wheel and pushing the envelope,” Stucker said. “We started the race with a full green run and the tires looked beautiful up and down pit road.”
Moving forward in the Contender round and with the race at Talladega Superspeedway being the wild card that it is, the teams in danger of elimination are all looking at the Bank America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT, ABC) as a race where they must finish up front, if not win.
“The easiest approach is just to go to Charlotte and win I guess,” Keselowski said. “The bad side of this Chase is we took a big points lead here and gave it all back to zero. The good side of it is that you can still win your way out.”
Johnson shared his thoughts via twitter following the race. “Racing shows no mercy & today was proof. I’ve gotta look forward & dig in deep. We still have 2 chances to transfer. This isn’t over yet.”
Johnson remains optimistic, but it should be noted that only one driver – Ryan Newman – in the bottom four after the Challenger Round opener at Chicagoland Speedway advanced to the Contender Round. With the bottom four drivers combining for 12 wins this season, if anyone can conquer the uphill battle, it is that group.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on us now,” Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Steve Letarte said. “We’re 20-something points out. We go there trying to win just like we tried to win here. Everybody still has to race Charlotte, everybody still has to race Talladega.”
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