Heluva Bad Day For Hendrick Motorsports at Watkins Glen

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IAugust 10, 2009

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 10:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. races the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International on August 10, 2009 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

While Tony Stewart basked in the glow of his fifth road course win at Watkins Glen, team Hendrick were nursing their wounds, some literally.  Only Jimmie Johnson, who secured his first-ever road course pole at the Glen, finished in the top 15 in the running order.

Johnson battled a loose race car all day long.  On lap 54, that loose car got out from under him and Johnson spun through the first turn.

Johnson saved the car and was able to bring his No. 48 Lowe's race car to the attention of crew chief Chad Knaus and his pit crew.  Although Johnson went back out on the track in the 13th position, he was never able to advance much further, finishing the race in the 12th position. 

“Truthfully as the day went on we just got looser and looser,” explained Johnson. “We anticipated the track tightening up and coming to us and it just kind of went the other way."

Johnson continued, "(We) spun out down in (turn) one and that didn’t help us any. I came to the braking zone and could see dirt and grass blowing around and thought, ‘Oh man, here I go.’ And sure enough, around I went.”
“But we’re getting smarter and learning a lot,” said Johnson. “Not the performance we wanted today but we fought really hard and got our first pole, so we have to look at the bright spots and just move forward.”

Johnson's teammate Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Carquest/Kellogg's Chevy, had a relatively miserable day at the Glen as well.  Martin started in the 28th position, barely moving through the field throughout the race.

In spite of his stellar record at the Glen, having three victories and three poles in his career, Martin finished this rain-delayed race in the 23rd position.

The most popular driver on the Hendrick team, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., also had a most unfortunate race on the road course.  Earnhardt, who started in the 32nd position, had some early luck moving eight positions forward.

But on lap 21, Earnhardt made a mistake, speeding on pit road.  This sent the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevy to the rear of the field.

Earnhardt managed to work his way forward to the 24th spot, when the unthinkable happened.  Junior went to brake into the turn and the brakes went to the floor, sending him slamming first into Reed Sorenson's car and then into the tire barrier on turn 10 of the road course.

"Going into (the turn), I mashed the brake, and it worked for a split second, and then it went to the floor like it blew a hose," Earnhardt said. "It was a brake line or something. I tried to miss the 43 and couldn't do a good job at that, but there wasn't much I could do."

Earnhardt finished in a miserablle 39th position, nursing his beat up race car to the finish line.

Summarized Earnhardt, "I ain't never had the brakes just completely fail on a car like that, so that was really an experience. … It's been a tough year, man."

By far and away, however, Hendrick four-time champion Jeff Gordon suffered the worst of luck of any of his teammates.  Gordon, who had to start well in the back of the field due to a poor qualifying effort, struggled with his car throughout the race.

But on lap 63, Gordon slammed violently into the spinning car of Sam Hornish, who had been pushed by Kasey Kahne into the tire barriers, careening back out onto the track. 

Gordon hit Hornish and then smashed head on into one of the track barriers, mangling the front end of his already destroyed race car.

"It's just not what I needed," said Gordon, who has been battling a bad back all season.  "You take three or four steps forward, take a hit like that, and take a couple back, said Gordon.

"I knew he was going to ricochet off," said Gordon.  "I just hoped I could get by him."

Gordon continued, "It took a toll on my back again."

After the conclusion of the Heluva Good! race at the Glen, Johnson and Gordon maintained their second and third positions respectively in the points standings.  But both lost ground to points leader and race winner Tony Stewart.

Mark Martin lost one position in the points race, falling to the 12th position.  Martin is now on the bubble of making the Chase race.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. lost two positions in the points standings.  He fell from the 23rd to the 25th position, well out of the championship competition.

The four horsemen of Hendrick Motorsports can only hope that their woes from the weekend at the Glen are over. 

There is no doubt that Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt, Jr., and Martin cannot wait until they move on to the next stop on the circuit at Michigan International Speedway next weekend.