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 said 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.