It’s not where you start, but where you finish. But qualifying farther up certainly would’ve helped Hendrick Motorsports going into tomorrow night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.
The Hendrick camp will have a bit of work ahead of them, as all four of its drivers – Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon (13th), defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (14th), Kasey Kahne (17th), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22nd) – were unable to get themselves into the final round and contend for the pole.
Gordon and Johnson were surprised that they didn’t have the speed to advance from Round 2.
“I really thought in practice we had a car that would have easily qualified in the top 24 for that first round and made it into round 2 just to start working on how we could sit on the pole and be in the top five,” Gordon said. “I did not expect to be here in 13th or 14th.”
“We felt like we had a car that could get into the final round and came up short,” Johnson told MRN. “I ran my fastest lap of the weekend so far, but it wasn’t enough to get us there. So, we’ll have to do a little bit more work in qualifying trim to get it.”
Johnson was more optimistic about his car in race trim after successful practice sessions earlier today, but wasn’t ready to declare an idea of what to expect tomorrow, when the Sprint Cup Series holds its first-ever night race on the 1.5-mile Kansas oval.
“We kind of get trends that certain tires show us and certain surfaces, but until you get out there and live it and experience it for yourself, you’re just guessing until then,” he said.
Also having to come from the pack tomorrow will be several drivers from the Toyota camp. Only one of the manufacturer’s drivers, Brian Vickers (15th), was able to qualify within the Top 20.
Home-state hero Clint Bowyer will roll off 23rd for his 300th Sprint Cup start, and is joined in Row 12 by Kyle Busch. Busch’s JGR teammates, Matt Kenseth and Talladega winner Denny Hamlin, start 28th and 30th respectively.
Other Toyota runners starting deep include rookies Ryan Truex (31st) and Cole Whitt (36th), as well as veteran Joe Nemechek (43rd).