Hendrick Motorsports drivers struggle at Charlotte
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Hendrick Motorsports' struggles this season carried over to Charlotte Motor Speedway on the Sunday in a key race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The perennially competitive NASCAR team struggled through the summer months and placed only three of its four drivers in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson was eliminated last week, and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the ropes.
Earnhardt hit the wall several times Sunday and finished 28th. Johnson was 39th and Kasey Kahne wound up in last place.
''I lost count of how many times we hit (the wall) today,'' Earnhardt Jr. said.
The only positive for Hendrick Motorsports on a sunny afternoon was Jeff Gordon, who started 22nd - behind the other 11 Chase drivers - and fought his way to an eighth-place finish.
''I couldn't be happier with the entire effort that we put out there,'' Gordon said. ''We made some great adjustments to get us back in this thing. I'm real happy with eighth. The problem is you've got six of the guys we're racing in the championship right there ahead of us. But we didn't lose much to them and I thought it was a really strong effort.''
Earnhardt wasn't as thrilled.
He was running in the top 10 when Carl Edwards tapped his rear bumper, forcing him into the wall again. Earnhardt remained on the track for five laps before his right front tire went down and he hit the wall, bringing out the caution and causing him to pit.
He was 35th on the restart and things continued to go downhill from there. He finished four laps off the pace of race winner Joey Logano.
''We tried everything we could to get laps back because we had a good enough car to run in the top 20, even after smashing it into the fence after all those times,'' Earnhardt said. ''We still had OK speed; but we just couldn't get an opportunity to get those laps back.''
Despite the setback, Earnhardt is optimistic about his chances to make it to the next round of the playoffs. The next race is at Kansas and the field will be trimmed from 12 to eight on Oct. 25 at Talladega.
''It ain't over,'' Earnhardt said. ''Don't worry about that. I mean, we don't have to go to Talladega and be nervous like those guys that are going to have to play it safe. We can just go hard. So, we've got a great car that can win that race. ... It ain't over. It certainly didn't help the day.''
Kahne crashed on lap 60 after a tire went down.
Johnson, who was eliminated from the Chase last week, left the race after an oil pump issue on lap 257.
Johnson's early exit from the race did have its perks. He tweeted a photo of making it on time to see his 5-year-old daughter walk in the American Girl charity show sponsored by the Jeff Gordon Foundation.