LONG POND With a powerful storm looming yesterday at Pocono International Raceway it became evident to teams and drivers that the race was going to be shortened. A caution on lap 87 for Kurt Busch slamming into the turn two wall set the stage for a dramatic restart and eventual finish to the Pennsylvania 400. A finish that could end up changing the course of a season for one driver who has maybe had one of the most bad luck seasons of all time.
Jeff Gordon, who was riding fifth at the time, took advantage of an accident in turn one on the chaotic restart to bring home his sixth career victory at Pocono.
Gordon slipped underneath the wreck in turn one after leader Jimmie Johnson slid up the track, bumping into second place driver Matt Kenseth. Kenseth then hit the wall in one sending his car sliding down the track and eventually collecting Denny Hamlin to bring out the yellow.
The race would never resume due to heavy rain and wind and Gordon left Pocono for once this season as the luckiest man on the day.
"Pocono has been a special place for us," said Gordon. "We got the win last year. It's been a very interesting year, to say the least. When we've had cars capable of winning races, like Martinsville, I can think of a handful of times we were in position to win and things didn't go our way for whatever reason. To see this race unfold the way it did, certainly makes up for a lot of those would have, could have, should haves this year. Things are coming together at the right time."
After lap 81 was complete, the race was past the halfway point, making it official and with rain in the area that meant whoever was at the front of the field was going to drive aggressively to stay there.
Restarts at Pocono are usually hectic because of the speed the drivers carry into turn one so Gordon and his crew chief Alan Gustafson knew this was probably their last chance to move up in the field and lucky for Gordon that's exactly what happened.
"In that position," said Gustafson. "I was explaining to Jeff that this was a restart, we need to get a good one, and then we could contend for a top-three finish. Jeff got a great restart. He basically put us in position, I think, by clearing Kasey, that was the key. He got Kasey cleared into one there and then the seas parted. It was more I was trying to inform Jeff the urgency of the situation that we weren't going to get another shot because the rain was coming."
"The restarts here, especially in the closing laps, you know the rain is coming so you know it's closing laps, it's crazy," Gordon said. "It's absolutely crazy. We could have just as easily lost six positions as we did make up four or five. So pretty awesome."
Gordon earned his sixth victory at Pocono, passing Bill Elliot in all time victories at the track. He also collected his 28th top 10 finish in 40 races at Pocono and has now won a total of 86 NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Perhaps the most important victory on the day for Gordon came in the grand scheme of things by moving into the second Wild Card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Based on his one victory and 13th overall point standings position he has moved in front of Carl Edwards, who is 12th in points, but does not have a victory in 2012.
Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all had good cars on the day. Earnhardt, Jr., was probably the fastest car all weekend at Pocono and was at the front for the first half of the race until transmission issues forced him to finish 32nd.
Johnson also ran near the front all day, but the accident on lap 91 sent him back to the 14th position. Kahne also caught a little good luck of his own after the caution on lap 91. He had a right rear tire going down, but opted to stay out because he and his team thought the rain would hit before the restart. The move got Kahne a second-place finish.
Even with the disappointing 32nd place finish, Earnhardt, Jr., was able to keep the points lead after Kenseth got caught up with Johnson on the lap 91 restart.
Next week the Nascar Sprint Cup Series will head to Watkins Glen Speedway in New York. There are only five races remaining until the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.