Hendrick Motorsports endures rough opening to Contender Round

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Any momentum that Hendrick Motorsports had following Jeff Gordon’s win last weekend at Dover was thoroughly erased in today’s Contender Round opener at Kansas Speedway.

Gordon’s 14th-place showing wound up being the best from the HMS camp, as he and all of his teammates – defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (pictured), and Kasey Kahne – all suffered through a tough Sunday.

Following an early race run-in with Jamie McMurray, Gordon lost gobs of track position and was unable to completely recover in the end.

“We were having a pretty solid day…until the 1 car got loose and into our left rear,” Gordon told ESPN. “He was just way over his head. I know he had a good car, he’s been running good, but he just got loose and got into me and got me in the wall.

“We had a little damage but we lost all that track position. It’s so hard to get it back at this place. We somewhat got it back on that last restart. I was just real loose. I’ve been a little loose, but not that loose and we fell back. We just kind of struggled and hung on there.

“A lot of people had trouble today, so today was a real survival day. We did that. I just feel like we could’ve finished a lot better than that.”

As for Kahne, he finished 22nd after running in the Top 5 with 40 laps to go. He made his final stop at Lap 228 of 267 only to have the caution come out a few laps later for Greg Biffle’s run-in with the wall.

Down one lap, Kahne took the wave around to get back with the leaders for the restart with 33 laps to go. But one lap later, Kahne got loose in Turn 1 and was unable to save his No. 5 Chevy from tagging the wall.

“I was catching the leaders again – the last half of a run, I was usually catching the leaders – and I was slowly reeling them in,” Kahne said about his late-race turn of fortune. “But something was happening with my tire. I was just ready to crash and just made it to pit road before it blew. And then we got behind.

“I tried to come from 19th and on the outside, I passed like five or six cars and was feeling good. Then I lost the back and hit the wall. My day was over at that point.”

As for Earnhardt and Johnson, they each were impacted by severe wrecks this afternoon. Earnhardt’s tire failure and crash before the halfway point ultimately relegated him to 39th, while Johnson’s crash at Lap 84 kicked him to a 40th-place finish – his worst run in the Chase since Homestead 2005.

Put it all together and all four Hendrick pilots are now on the advance bubble heading to the middle race of the Contender Round next weekend at Charlotte.

Gordon occupies the eighth and final Chase Grid position that will go to the Eliminator Round. He has an eight-point gap over teammate Kahne in ninth, while Earnhardt fell to 11th at 25 points behind Gordon and Johnson dropped to 12th (last among the remaining Chasers) at 27 points back.

And with the chaotic Talladega Superspeedway on the horizon for the next elimination race, Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 in Charlotte may now be HMS’ most important race of the season.