|Hendrick ranks California as one of toughest defeats|
|Wednesday, March 26, 2014 8:22 PM|
By JENNA FRYER
CONCORD, N.C. — It was a long cross-country flight home for Rick Hendrick after the team owner watched victory slip away for two of his drivers at Auto Club Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson was leading in the closing laps until a tire failure sent him to pit road and cost him his first win of the season. His misfortune appeared to be Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon’s gain, though, as Gordon inherited the lead from Johnson.
But as Gordon cruised toward the finish line, a spin by Clint Bowyer with two laps remaining jumbled everything. Gordon restarted in traffic, had trouble on the restart and finished 13th. Johnson was 24th after leading a race-high 104 laps.
“It’s hard. Those are really hard,” Hendrick said. “That was a rough ride home Sunday night, probably as disappointed as I’ve ever been to have two cars so good and come away with nothing.”
Hendrick told reporters he’d only felt worse once before, following the 2012 spring race at Martinsville, when both Johnson and Gordon were wrecked on a restart while lined up side-by-side set to race each other for the win. The two had dominated the race and were both vying to be the driver to give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory.
On hand that day were the widows of Hendrick’s brother and a DuPont executive, who were at the track for the first time since 10 people were killed when a Hendrick plane crashed en route to Martinsville.
“The only race that I can remember that was as bad as (California) was Martinsville when the restart, we got both of them taken out,” Hendrick said. “There was just no way we were going to lose that race, and we did.”
By the time he landed in Charlotte late Sunday, Hendrick said he was already thinking about the next race, which is Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson and Gordon lead the series among active drivers with eight wins each at Martinsville and Gordon won there in October. Although both drivers are still seeking their first win of the year, Hendrick feels both will rebound from the disappointment of Fontana on Sunday.
“I can handle if you are fast and your cars are really strong and you are not searching for speed, you can kind of come back and write it off and say ‘That’s racin’,” Hendrick added. “But if you are coming home and you are running 15th and you don’t know how to get in the top 10, then those are tough days. We didn’t do anything wrong (at California). The breaks didn’t go our way.”
ANNA de FERRAN: The daughter of 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran will sing “God Bless America” during pre-race ceremonies for Sunday’s season-opening IndyCar race.
Anna de Ferran started writing and performing at the age of 13 in her native England. Now 19, her gig in St. Petersburg, Fla., this weekend will be the biggest of her career.
She’ll also sing some of her original songs on Saturday on the center stage in the IndyCar Fan Village.
Although she was raised in the U.S., Anna was born in England and returned there when her father was sporting director for Honda in Formula One from 2005 through 2007. She and younger brother, Luke, remained in England to finish their education and Anna developed her love for music while attending school in Oxford.
She started a band with some friends at 13 and sings in both Portuguese and English. She also features motorsports in her song “Drive.”
ELVIS’ CAR: Icons from the worlds of NASCAR and music came together at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week when Dale Earnhardt Jr. unveiled one of Elvis Presley’s most prized vehicles.
The 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III is known to be the last car Elvis drove. He was photographed driving the car into the gates of Graceland just hours before he died. No one else had driven the car since that day until Earnhardt took it for a spin at Charlotte on Tuesday.
The car was unveiled after undergoing an extensive preservation to restore it to the condition it was in when Elvis last drove it in 1976.
“It has never left Graceland. It has been there in the auto museum in Graceland. This car has not been run in 25 years,” said Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises. “If we had fully restored it, it would be a 1973 Stutz. But leaving that little bit of that DNA of Elvis — the original seats in the condition they are in, little nicks here and there — that makes it Elvis’ and we wanted to preserve that.”
The car will be on display during next week’s AutoFair at the speedway.
Earnhardt considers himself a big Elvis fan and added he’s got a room dedicated in his house for memorabilia he’s collected — much of it sent to him by fans.
Hamlin cleared after metal removed from eye: A small piece of metal in his eye — and not a sinus infection — caused Denny Hamlin to miss last week’s race at California.
Hamlin was not medically cleared to race last Sunday by doctors in the infield care center at Auto Club Speedway. He had visited the care center on Saturday and Sunday complaining of an irritation to his eye and it was determined at the track that it was related to a recent sinus infection Hamlin had suffered.
Hamlin was referred to a local hospital for further evaluation and once there, “a small piece of metal was found to be in Hamlin’s eye,” Joe Gibbs Racing revealed in a statement Wednesday.
The metal was removed and JGR said “Hamlin felt immediate improvement.” By then, the race at Fontana had already started and replacement driver Sam Hornish Jr. was behind the wheel of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota.
Hamlin underwent further testing in California before he was cleared to fly home to North Carolina. He was evaluated in Charlotte on Monday and again on Wednesday, when it was determined he had no lingering issues with his vision and is cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin has four career victories at Martinsville and an average finish of eighth.
The timeline of Hamlin’s diagnosis and revelation it was a piece of metal in his eye and not a sinus infection comes a day after Earnhardt called on NASCAR to release information regarding Hamlin not being cleared to race at California.
Earnhardt, during an appearance Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, questioned why there had been no official NASCAR statement or further explanation from Hamlin on what happened. He was particularly interested because it is so unusual for a driver to be parked shortly before a race is about to begin.
Earnhardt missed two races in 2012 after he suffered his second concussion in six weeks. He drove for weeks following the first concussion, which occurred while testing at Kansas Speedway. He was cleared to drive following that crash and the concussion was discovered after he wrecked again at Talladega.