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Hamlin in lead as rain stops race
Denny Hamlin led the field to pit road as the Federated Auto Parts 400 was stopped for rain on Lap 152 on Saturday night.
Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed in second with Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne rounding out the top five.
But with the Chase for the Sprint Cup on the line, Jeff Gordon never was a factor. He entered the weekend “optimistic” and promised “not to go down without a fight.” But on Lap 127, race leader Hamlin put the four-time champion one lap off the pace. Despite adjustments to the No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon taxed the tires and the brakes in an effort to overcompensate for the ill-handling car. When the red flag flew, Gordon was mired at 25th — 14 positions behind Kyle Busch, who he would need to gain 13 points on at Richmond International Raceway to earn the final wild-card position for the Chase.
“We just missed it,” Gordon politely remarked to a TV reporter. “It happens.”
The rain delay could play into the No. 24 team’s hands as it used the down time to discuss strategy with the other three Hendrick Motorsports crews.
While Busch also endured brake issues as the race progressed, he climbed from 15th to sixth in the early laps before the race was red-flagged.
“On that last restart (Lap 57), I got freight-trained pretty bad — got stuck on the outside and just got freight-trained,” Busch said while he remained in his car. “Faded a little bit, but then started going back forward, but you just use your tires up too much doing that.
“We’ve been trying to conserve a little bit, keep the brakes under it and keep the tires under it. It’s just hard to go anywhere. Any time you feel like you’re going somewhere and making ground and going forward, you’re hard on the tires, and 10 laps later, those guys will be going back by you.”
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