Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports lost that lucky horseshoe in the Irish Hills on Sunday.
All four HMS Chevys experienced issues at Michigan International Speedway starting with Jeff Gordon five laps into the race. Gordon was collected by Bobby Labonte in Turn 2.
“Bobby Labonte just lost it over there in Turn 2,” Gordon said. “He just did one of those slow spins where I couldn’t tell which direction he was going to go, so I had to guess and I guessed the wrong way. I didn’t really have anywhere to go.”
Gordon started 29th and was battling his way to the front when Labonte broke loose. Despite a weak starting spot, Gordon felt he had a car that could have made it to the front with the rest of his teammates — given the opportunity. Despite damage to the car, Gordon ran an additional 47 laps before he was scored 39th.
“I just can’t believe the way this season is going for us in this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet,” Gordon said. "It seems like we can run all day long when we can’t get the car right but when we finally get the car right, something like this happens. . . . This team just continues to have to face adversity and I appreciate how strong they are during it, but I just wish we didn’t all have to be tested quite this much.”
Gordon took a huge hit in the point standings as he dropped from 11th to 16th — 140 points behind Johnson, who still has a commanding 31-point lead.
Kasey Kahne was the next victim. Kahne started third and appeared to be the class of the field. After leading 14 laps, he blew a right front tire on Lap 104. The car slammed the Turn 2 wall and burst into flames.
“I just was going into the corner and then ‘boom’ it turned right, went straight into the wall,” Kahne said. “It was a hard hit. We had a great Farmers Insurance Chevy. Things were working out. I thought it was going to be between myself and Jimmie. We both had two really fast cars. It would have been a shootout.”
However, Kahne’s day was over. He finished 38th. For the second consecutive week, the No. 5 team struggled. He couldn’t get his car rolling last week at Pocono as a drive shaft U-joint failed on the opening laps. Kahne returned to action but was 19 laps down and finished 36th. Three weeks ago, Kahne finished second at Charlotte and was fifth in the point standings. After an accident the following week at Dover and subsequent failures the last two weeks, Kahne now sits 12th in the point standings.
With Kahne out of the running, the battle appeared to be shaping up between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson. But for the second time in four races, Earnhardt’s engine expired. Earnhardt led 34 laps, but was unable to defend his win when the gremlins crept in on Lap 127.
“There was no warning at all even after I think we lost a cylinder,” Earnhardt said. “The gauges all looked really good. Flipped all the switches I could flip and nothing was really making a difference. We just had something come apart in the motor.”
With three Hendrick cars out of field, it was up to Johnson to seal the deal. Johnson passed second-place Kevin Harvick with nine laps remaining. But with three laps to go, Johnson cut a tire, slapped the wall and was forced to pit.
"Definitely disappointed,” said Johnson, who led three times for a total of 18 laps. “We had a great car coming through the pack multiple times. We just couldn’t get it right on pit road with the strategy. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is being a little hard on himself about that right now. Good news is, we had an awesome racecar and we had a big points lead.
“I’m sure we lost a little today. I hate to miss an opportunity. I want those bonus points for winning races, and I feel like one got away from us today. But, we will come back next week at Sonoma, make some right hand turns and see what happens."
Johnson finished 28th, the first car off the lead lap. His points lead shrunk to 31 points over Carl Edwards, who finished eighth.