Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Hendrick's drivers spend a busy day testing at NHMS
Jimmie Johnson's car is in pit stop, during the Hendrick Motorsports Racing Team's test day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Wednesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
LOUDON -- A couple of Hendrick Motorsports jets sat on the runway at Concord Airport all day on Wednesday while the folks they brought to town went about their business up Rte. 106 a bit.
Under new NASCAR rules, a company's teams all test together these days and that brought four of Sprint Cup racing's biggest stars - Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne - to New Hampshire. They were due to test on Tuesday as well, but rain changed those plans and instead everything got squeezed into one day
It's down to crunch time in the Sprint Cup season and these Hendrick guys - to get right down to it - are a greedy bunch.
They want to lock up a full one-third of the field for the 2013 Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship.
Johnson, Earnhardt, Gordon and Kahne all are looking for spots in the field of a dozen that gets to compete in the 10-race Chase that begins Sept. 15 at Chicago and stops back here on Sept. 22 for Race 2.
Johnson has his place secured already and Earnhardt and Kahne would be in if the Chase started this morning.
Gordon has some ground to make up. He sits 13th in points going into the Michigan Pure 400 today and does not have a win, which would be a big help if he needs to get in via the wildcard route.
The top 10 drivers in the point standings qualify for the Chase and two drivers get in based on wins and points.
Hendrick Motorsports saved the bulk of its limited testing dates for late in the season, allowing it to gear up for the Chase.
That's made for some hectic scheduling down the stretch, but Johnson, at least, likes the way things have worked out.
His Lowe's Chevrolet team has a huge lead in the points and the five-time champion is an early favorite to collect No. 6. The points lead will allow him to miss the last pre-Chase race at Richmond to be with his wife, Chandra, who is due about then with their second daughter, if necessary.
The next few weeks between tests and the races at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond will help Johnson, the team and crew chief Chad Knauss prepare for what's to come in the Chase.
"I think it's good for me and the 48," Johnson said. "To be in the cars, at the track, trying to find speed, developing parts and pieces and putting pressure on myself, on the team and on Chad, that's the world we're going to live in for 10 weeks. So right now, we're kind of ramping up and building that pressure instead of showing up at Chicago and the pressure landing on our shoulders."
Earnhardt is sixth in points going into the Michigan race and is happy with the 47-point lead - there are 48 points available in each race - he has at the moment on Kurt Busch, who is in 11th, and hopes to maintain a comfortable lead.
"It's not a lot of fun having to race looking over your shoulder all the time trying to make the Chase the last few events," Earnhardt said. "Especially going into Richmond, if you're in a situation where it's real close. It's just a real miserable weekend having to worry about that."
Kahne, and Gordon especially, may be worrying.
Kahne is just ahead of Gordon in 12th going into today's race. But he does have two wins, which is more than any of the other drivers in contention for a wildcard spot, so he should be safe.
Gordon does not have a win and is 15 points behind Martin Truex Jr., who ranks 10th. He needs to either move safely into the Top 10, or win one of the last three races and hope he has enough points to hold off others looking for a wildcard.
Last year, Gordon squeezed into the Chase by finishing second in the last race at Richmond.
The Hendrick folks, by the way, got lots of work in at NHMS before getting back on those airplanes and heading home.
"The 12 Hours of Loudon is finally over," Johnson said in a tweet on Wednesday night. "There're some exhausted Team Hendrick members, including myself."
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Defending champion Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover led the American Canadian Tour standings with four races remaining in the season going into an event at Beech Ridge Speedway in Scarborough, Maine, on Saturday night. Jimmy Hebert was second and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson third. ... Polewarczyk led the wins list with three and Helliwell and Hebert had two each. ... The Bond Auto ACT Invitational, a non-points race, is scheduled for Sept. 21 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as part of the Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup weekend.
firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @allenlessels
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