Luck smiled on Jeff Gordon for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season Sunday at Pocono. With his chances of making the Chase for the Cup getting ever smaller with each passing race and no victories, Gordon got his first of the year after emerging from a chaotic restart in the lead and then the skies opening up.
With lightning storms at the track, a Pocono Raceway spokesperson confirmed 10 people were injured by lightning - 2 critical, 1 moderate, 2 minor, 5 treated/released.
The race was stopped with 62 of 160 laps remaining, with Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne 1-2.
“You can't ever give up, you just have to go out and try to win,” said Gordon. “For all that's gone wrong for us this year, I can't believe this happened. This makes up for it.”
Gordon started only 27th but methodically worked his way toward the top five despite the race only having two cautions up to that point – both for accidents by the Busch brothers. A restart after that point saw a tank-slapper between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth with both of them washing up the road into Turn 1, before Kenseth spun back into oncoming traffic.
“We got a great restart, and I came out the other end leading,” Gordon explained. “You don't want to win them quite like this but we've been so close, and for once we had something go our way. You start to lose faith in whether it will happen again. I felt a lot of pressure cause we hadn't done it yet. Don't count us out – we needed this!”
Gordon's win means all four Hendrick cars – which before Darlington in May had yet to win in 2012 – have now visited Victory Lane this season.
Johnson's spin dropped him to 14th while early transmission troubles sent Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the garage, and an ultimate 32nd-place finish. Johnson suggested after the race that a damaged tire contributed to his clash with Kenseth.
"I must have hit some debris under caution because I had a soft right rear tyre for the restart. I didn't know until Turn 1 and things got exciting," Johnson wrote on his Twitter feed.
Kenseth was skeptical about Johnson's explanation of the incident, which happened as he was putting the pressure on the Hendrick driver on the outside at Turn 1.
Johnson's car slid sideways and up the banking, taking Kenseth with him. The No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford spun and was then collected head on by Denny Hamlin's Toyota.
"I don't think he had a flat, did he? I don't think so," Kenseth said. "I am not mad at him, it is just that you race for the win and I thought I gave enough room down there. He drove in hard because he is racing for the win too."
Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart completed the top five in the rain shortened race. Regan Smith had one of his best results of the year in ninth, two spots behind Carl Edwards in seventh with his first top-10 finish with new crew chief Chad Norris.
Earnhardt Jr. still leads the points by five points over Kenseth, six over Greg Biffle and eight over Johnson. Gordon jumps into a tie with Ryan Newman for the second wild card spot outside the top 10 in points, with Kahne still currently leading that on the strength of two victories.
Before the the final caution another two had waved, first for Kyle Busch, whose Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered a mechanical failure that caused him to end up hitting the wall. Later his brother Kurt also visited the barriers due to an apparent puncture on his Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.
Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya led for the first seven laps but then dropped down the order with handling issues and crossed the finish line in 20th.
The series heads for Watkins Glen next week.
Results - 98 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 1h45m34.000s
2. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.371s
3. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 2.843s
4. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 3.398s
5. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 5.166s
6. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 6.261s
7. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 7.425s
8. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 8.228s
9. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 9.519s
10. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 11.084s
11. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 12.571s
12. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 14.198s
13. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 15.923s
14. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 17.236s
15. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 18.104s
16. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 19.406s
17. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 21.331s
18. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 24.853s
19. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 26.479s
20. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 45.223s
21. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 49.679s
22. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 53.243s
23. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 54.440s
24. David Reutimann Badldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
25. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 1 lap
26. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 1 lap
27. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps
28. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 2 laps
Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 90 laps
Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet 84 laps
Jason White FAS Lane Ford 81 laps
Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 80 laps*
Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 74 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 43 laps
Casey Mears Germain Ford 40 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 37 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 34 laps
Tony Raines Baldwin Chevrolet 31 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 29 laps
JJ Yeley Max Q Chevrolet 27 laps
Mike Skinner Parsons Ford 26 laps
Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Ford 10 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 9 laps
* Running again at finish