Uncanny: Powerful Hendrick Motorsports goes from four to just one team left in Chase

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Hendrick Motorsports has never seen a day like Sunday.

It came into the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with four teams in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

When the checkered flag fell after 194 laps – six more than the scheduled 188 – as hard as it may seem to believe, only one HMS driver will advance to the Eliminator Round.

You can forget about:

  • Jimmie Johnson’s bid to defend last year’s championship and his hope to win a seventh Sprint Cup crown.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bid to earn his first-ever Sprint Cup championship and to send Steve Letarte out as a championship-winning crew chief. Letarte is leaving HMS after this season to become an analyst on NBC telecasts of NASCAR races next season.
  • Kasey Kahne’s Cinderella-like hopes to move into the third round of the Chase.

As NASCAR moves to the next race at Martinsville, only the patriarch of the four HMS drivers, four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon, will be left to represent the team in the Eliminator Round.

His so-called “Drive For Five” bid for a fifth career Cup championship and his first since 2001 is still alive and well.

“I’m just mentally drained right now,” Gordon told ESPN. “It’s always tough to race here at Talladega and put yourself in position and know your championship hopes are right there in that final moment. It’s nerve-wracking.

“I’m proud of this team and the job they did. We fought hard.

“I’m just glad we made it. I can’t wait for Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, all great tracks for us. This team has done some amazing work this year, these next three are where we’re really going to shine and show them.”

Gordon acknowledged how difficult it is to know he is the only driver left to salvage HMS’s championship hopes, but at the same time, it’s somewhat of a byproduct of racing at Talladega and the situation the three now-eliminated drivers faced coming into Sunday’s race.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We knew that Jimmie and Junior were in tough positions, but if anyone could win this race, either one of those guys could.

“Kasey raced hard all day. I really thought he was going to make it.

“These are three guys that could have been factors in this championship. Great teams, great drivers and friends of mine and I hate to see them not in there.

“But we’re going to try to make Hendrick proud and go out there and get ourselves to Homestead.”

Kahne missed the Eliminator Round by just three points. When interviewed by ESPN after the race, he seemed as if he was still in disbelief that he fell short.

“You just try and get the best finish you can,” Kahne said. “I’m in 20th (position in the race) and got back up to 11th.

“It was tough if you weren’t in the top few spots. Once I was 10th, eighth, it was really difficult to get back up to that point and that was it.”

30 Seconds to Know: How does the Chase Eliminator round work?

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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III