Hendrick makes a comeback over 2013 race
The 2013 Quicken Loans 400 was a forgettable day for Hendrick Motorsports.
A year made all the difference.
Jimmie Johnson drove his No. 48 Chevy to his first career win at Michigan International Speedway and Hendrick teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (in photo) landed in the top seven.
The finishes sent the team to next weekend’s stop at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway with the top three spots in the Sprint Cup series standings. Gordon retained his lead, but it’s just 15 points better than Johnson, who jumped from fourth to second with the victory. Earnhardt remained third, 38 points behind Gordon.
“This was a great win for a lot of reasons,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “It was great to see Jimmie, after leading so many laps here, finally close the deal.
“All our cars ran well. We’ve been kind of clicking here lately.”
A win at Sonoma would give HMS six straight series wins for the first time since 2007.
And the good news just kept coming: Six of the top eight finishers were powered by Chevy engines developed by HMS. Brad Keselowski was third for Ford’s best finish Sunday and admitted the rest of the teams in the series probably will be looking ahead at HMS the rest of the way.
“We all have a little bit of work to do,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious the Hendrick engines are way ahead of us.”
The day was especially sweet for Kahne, who was dinged on Lap 6 but made his way back and took his first lead on Lap 183 before having to pit a few laps later. His fifth-place finish was just his fourth top-five performance this season and his best since he was third at Kansas on May 10.
Johnson had HMS’s best finish last spring when he ended the race 28th. Earnhardt, Gordon and Kahne all left early because of crashes or engine problems.
Johnson’s victory also ended a three-race streak of Ford-powered cars in victory lane here, the Sprint Cup’s closest stop to the headquarters of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
Alba Colon, Chevrolet’s program manager for NASCAR series, was happy to claim the challenge trophy that goes to the manufacturer who wins at Michigan International Speedway.
“It’s great to have a friendly competition and bring this trophy home to our office,” she said.
The last Chevy win here was Earnhardt’s victory in June 2012.
Joey Logano won the August race in a Team Penske Ford and Greg Biffle was the victor in last June’s Father’s Day race in a Roush Fenway Racing Fusion. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns here Aug. 17 for the Pure Michigan 400.
BACK IT UP
Rookie Kyle Larson lost his back bumper after a Lap 6 spin that collected Martin Truex Jr. and it might have been the best thing that could have happened to the No. 42 Target Chevy.
He got back on the lead lap and rose as high as fifth before a Lap 151 penalty for speeding on pit lane forced him farther back in the field. Still, he was the day’s top rookie after finishing eighth.
“We fought our way back to the top five and pretty much stayed there for most of the race,” Larson said, “and then with under 50 laps to go I sped on pit road.
“I was really bummed about that because I knew we would have a shot to win. I hate it, but still somewhat happy to get a top 10, just disappointed I let my team down.”
The missing part of the bumper seemed to make him faster and fellow drivers seemed to notice.
“He’s got to be loving the way that thing rides with that bumper gone,” TNT audio caught Dale Earnhardt Jr. saying to his crew.
Larson didn’t disagree.
“It probably did help me a bit,” he said.
Brian Vickers’ race ended before it was even a lap old.
His Toyota brushed the Turn 4 wall near the end of the opening lap, then spun before collecting Travil Kvapil near the entrance to pit road. Both cars went to the garages and the drivers finished 42nd and 43rd, respectively.
“I don’t know what happened,” Vickers said. “The car just came out from under me.”
It was a particularly tough day for Vickers, who entered the race 13th in the Sprint Cup series standings and searching for his first win of the season. It was his worst finish since a June 1 DNF at Dover.
Johnson crossed MIS off his list of tracks where he’s never won. All that’s left on the current schedule are Chicagoland Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Watkins Glen. … There’s been plenty of speculation about whom Carl Edwards will be driving for next season, but one team already is off the list. TNT reported before Sunday’s race that Edwards will not move to Richard Childress Racing next season, if he moves at all. His contract with Roush Fenway Racing is up at the end of the season. … Kyle Busch was 41st after broken left rear hub forced him off the track. His crew made repairs and got his Toyota back into the race, albeit 26 laps off the lead. … Detroit Lions rookie Eric Ebron signed his first NFL contract on Friday and was on the track Sunday afternoon to give drivers the command to start their engines. The tight end was the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft.
Scot Held, NASCAR Wire Service