BROOKLYN, MI — The struggles continued for Hendrick Motorsports at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
Only one of the team’s four cars finished inside the top-10 (Kasey Kahne, seventh) Sunday afternoon.
The other three cars (Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson) each had their fair share of struggles over the course of Sunday’s 400-mile race.
After starting the race from the 41st position after crashing his primary car in Saturday’s final practice session, Jimmie Johnson charged his way to the lead of the race before 50 laps were completed.
However, shortly after his first scheduled green-flag pit stop, the driver of the No.48 reported that the engine was blowing up, ending the five-time champion’s day.
“I guess when we came in for a green flag pit stop something started then,” Johnson said. “I didn’t notice anything, then it finally dropped a cylinder or two down the back-straightaway.”
Johnson finished the race in 40th, his worst finish of the 2013 season to date.
“This track is hard on engines and the guys will figure out what’s going on there,” he continued. “Days like today, I’m thankful for the big points lead we have and the bonus points we’ve been able to accumulate to get us in position for the Chase.”
Johnson holds a 41-point advantage over second-place Clint Bowyer with three races remaining before the Chase cutoff at Richmond in September.
While Johnson finds himself locked into the Chase, his fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates are not as fortunate.
After leading early, Earnhardt Jr. cut a right-front tire while running seventh.
The team would go into the garage to repair the No.88 Chevrolet and returned to the track to finish 36th.
“I think this is the same tire we struggled with the last race. But, I don’t know,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
“It’s just kind of frustrating. It’s just bad luck. If we keep running like we’re supposed to run and like we’ve been running, we’ll get into the Chase and not have to worry about it. But this is bad luck, we need to shake that. We just can’t keep having this every week.”
Gordon, who now finds himself 14th in the point standings without a win following Michigan, never contended up front throughout the race, finishing a mediocre 17th.
Holding on to the first wild card spot for the Chase, Kahne was the highest placing Hendrick driver on the day. However, Kahne was never the strongest car on the track, failing to lead a lap.
In 2012, all four Hendrick Motorsports teams made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With three races remaining and only one driver safely in, there’s question as to if only the No.48 team will qualify for the Chase.
“I feel pretty good,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’ve been in tighter situations. I think if we just run good as we can we will be fine.
“We are not an 11th-place team. If we just run as good as we can we should be alright.”