Jeff Gordon came close to starting a string of wins.
Sunday's 13-car crash in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway was all too reminiscent of the "big one" drivers are accustomed to experiencing at superspeedways like Talladega.
Tony Stewart's car even ended up on the hood of Paul Menard's Chevrolet in the incident which took nine laps under caution to clear.
"I told Tony the last time we did that was about two years ago at Talladega," Menard said. "We have to stop doing that."
Stewart managed a chuckle, even though he’d been on the cusp of contention, in and out of the top five all afternoon.
“This time at least we weren’t looking (through the) windshield in at each other,” Stewart said. “It was not where we wanted to end up by any means."
The chaos was no laughing matter for drivers like Matt Kenseth, still seeking his first win this season, Brian Vickers, who had been running among the leaders all day, and Brad Keselowski, fresh off Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.
Once Denny Hamlin got loose, Vickers was forced to dive to the outside and Keselowski was left with nothing to do but slam into Menard.
Even Kevin Harvick, who recovered to pressure race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. all the way to the finish, suffered damage when his car ran over what he called "a two-foot by two-foot drain" sunken into the apron asphalt.
“The 15 (Clint Bowyer) was right on my door and it sucked me around,” said Hamlin, who escaped contact and managed to finish ninth. “I was just hanging on at that point and I think it was mayhem for everyone checking up from behind.”
Aric Almiorla suffered serious damage and finished 35th, just ahead of Stewart, Vickers and Kenseth.
“I just tried to aim for the middle and hope for the best,” Almirola said. “I was behind Keselowski and there were cars inside of us, so I couldn’t turn left. I was just along for the ride. There’s nothing you can do when it gets like that.”
Gordon strong again
For much of the afternoon, Jeff Gordon looked strong enough to have a shot at winning consecutive Cup races for the first time since 2007.
“I am still really happy with the way our car performed,” said Gordon, the all-time winningest driver at Pocono with six victories, who was coming off last week’s triumph at Indianapolis. “It’s just so awesome and encouraging and it has my confidence sky high. I just can’t wait to get to the next race.”
Gordon led three times for a race-high 63 laps before settling for a sixth-place finish that kept him atop the point standings, 17 points ahead of Earnhardt. And the race winner knew he’d have his hands full if Gordon was close at the finish.
“The 24 was so strong, we wanted to leapfrog him on pit road and not leave it up to circumstances on the track,” Earnhardt said. “We were going to have a very hard time passing him, so what it came down to was Steve (crew chief Letarte) and his pit strategy.”
Jimmie Johnson ran into trouble twice and has now finished out of the top 10 in four consecutive races for the second time since 2009.
Johnson recovered from a flat tire on Lap 8. But his team couldn’t fix the damage after he smacked the wall while running fifth with 49 laps remaining.
“I am clueless (as to what happened),” said Johnson, who finished 39th and dropped to sixth in points. “The car went straight down into the Tunnel Turn. Normally when (a tire) goes down, they explode. There was no explosion. It just went straight (into the fence).”
Kyle Busch’s engine failed on Lap 24, resulting in a 42nd-place showing that dropped him four places to 10th in points.
Closing on the Chase
While Harvick’s second-place finish locked the Stewart-Haas driver into the Chase, former SHR driver Ryan Newman solidified his standing with his eighth-place showing.
Though winless, Newman has eight top-10 finishes this season and is fifth in the point standings.
Greg Biffle’s fifth at Pocono helped vault him three spots to 13th in the standings, five points behind rookie Kyle Larson, who started on the pole Sunday and finished 11th.
Seth Livingstone, NASCAR Wire Service