After winning 18 of 36 races last season, Hendrick Motorsports entered the year as the team to beat. In two races so far this season, Hendrick drivers have yet to challenge for the win.
But today’s UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway could be where the team breaks through. Jeff Gordon starts fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts eighth and Casey Mears is 11th.
Jimmie Johnson, the three-time defending race winner, was a disappointing 35th in qualifying. But the two-time defending Cup champion said there’s nothing to worry about, yet.
“We did win a lot of events, lead a lot of laps last year at Hendrick,” Johnson said. “But there were a lot of teams right there on our heels. It’s a little early I think to place judgment in either direction.”
Gordon said expectations have been raised throughout the industry, but Hendrick is just like any other team in that it’s still getting a feel for the full-time use of the Car of Tomorrow. Hendrick drivers won nine of the 16 races the car was used in last season.
“You can’t drive this car the same way you could drive the old car,” Gordon said. “Hendrick Motorsports is so good and so thorough and we have problems, like anybody else, but nobody analyzes them and fixes them faster and better and gives us more confidence every week than what they do.”
JR Motorsports has dropped its appeal of the suspension of Nationwide Series crew chief Chad Walter.
Walter began his six-race suspension Saturday, with Lance McGrew serving as interim crew chief this weekend.
Walter was one of seven crew chiefs suspended for infractions found at the season-opening race in Daytona. JR Motorsports was found to have an illegal deck lid on Dale Earnhardt’s car following the first practice. Walter was fined $25,000 and Earnhardt was docked 50 points.
Kasey Kahne led Saturday’s final practice session, then raced his way out of the track to rest up for today’s race.
Gillett Evernham Motorsports pulled Kahne from Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, replacing him with Patrick Carpentier because Kahne is battling a sinus infection.
The team tabbed Jason Keller to stand by today if Kahne can’t race.
TESTING AT PIR
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series testing at Phoenix International Raceway on Monday is open to the public, with free admission to fans holding a grandstand ticket to the April 12 Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR.
The first 100 fans will receive autographed collector cards of driver and Phoenix native J.J. Yeley.
Monday’s test sessions run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with hour breaks at noon and 5 p.m. Gate 7 will open for fans at 9 a.m.
April race tickets will be available for purchase at the Gate 7 ticket office.
Tuesday’s sessions are closed to the public.