BROOKLYN, Mich. — Jimmie Johnson’s exit was only the beginning. It was another rough day for Hendrick Motorsports in Michigan.
Johnson, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup points leader, was knocked out Sunday after 54 laps when he blew his engine, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car was damaged when he slammed into the wall on the 135th lap. Johnson finished 40th, and Earnhardt was 36th.
Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon did complete all 200 laps, with Kahne finishing seventh and Gordon 17th — but Gordon slipped to 14th place in the standings, and he could be on the outside looking in during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
During the Cup race at MIS in June, all four Hendrick drivers failed to crack the top 25. Johnson blew a tire with three laps left and hit the wall, Earnhardt blew a cylinder and was 37th, Kahne had a cut tire and ended up 38th, and Gordon placed 39th when he was involved in an accident with 10 laps to go.
Sunday’s race wasn’t quite that bad for Hendrick, but it was a rare finish near the bottom for Johnson. He was forced to start from the back of the field after switching to his backup car following a crash during practice Saturday.
It was only the eighth time in Johnson’s career that he has finished 40th or worse. The five-time Cup champion said he’s fortunate Sunday’s finish won’t drastically impact his points lead.
“You know, this track is hard on engines and these guys will figure out what went on there,” he said. “Days like today, I am thankful for the big points lead that we have and the bonus points we have been able to accumulate to get us to this position for the Chase. It happens, and I hope to get all this stuff out of the way now, although I hate losing momentum going into the Chase.”
Earnhardt echoed Johnson’s hopes that recent problems would disappear before the Chase.
“It’s just kind of frustrating,” Earnhardt said. “It’s just bad luck. If we keep running like we’re supposed to run and like we’ve been running, we’ll get on into the Chase and not have to worry about it. But this bad luck, we need to shake that. We just can’t keep having this every week. It’s been biting us every week.”
Earnhardt was 30th the previous weekend at Watkins Glen.