Count Mother Nature among Jeff Gordon's friends today. Despite struggling with brake issues and running on nearly spent tires, Gordon took advantage of a rain shortened day at Pocono Raceway to claim his fourth win of the season. The race ...
Count Mother Nature among Jeff Gordon's friends today.
Despite struggling with brake issues and running on nearly spent tires, Gordon took advantage of a rain shortened day at Pocono Raceway to claim his fourth win of the season.
The race started nearly two and a half hours late and rain started to threaten again approaching the midway point of the race. That gave Gordon and his team the opportunity to gamble on a pit strategy that ultimately put him in position to take the checkered flag.
Gordon started 18th and took the lead for the first time when he stayed out during a caution on lap 65. He made a green flag stop for on lap 82 and assumed the lead again while the other lead lap cars cycled through their pit stops.
Gordon watched Carl Edwards stretch his fuel until lap 97 and then held off a hard charge by pole-sitter Ryan Newman during what turned out to be the final lap. The race was red-flagged on lap 107 when rain hit the back stretch. NASCAR called it 45 minutes later.
"We had a great race car, we just needed track position," said Gordon, who led 26 laps, but gave credit for the win to his crew chief. "Steve Letarte - he won this race today. We had a great race car, but without track position and without a great, risky call like that...I can't believe we won this race."
It was Gordon's fourth win in the past seven races and his fourth career Pocono win to move into a four-way tie for second on the all-time winners list with Tim Richmond, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip. Bill Elliott, who finished 37th on Sunday, leads the way with five career wins.
Despite being the second shortest race so far this season, it will be a memorable one for Gordon.
"We've had some drama this year in our wins," said Gordon, who padded his championship points lead to 242. "When we do it, it's in dramatic fashion. I'm just so proud of all of my guys. What a great way to finish this day out. I didn't think we were even going to get out on the race track today. I still don't believe it."
Gordon was struggling with a brake issue through most of the race and his crew chief knew they would need a strategy to get track position.
"We didn't have a very good car, but he drove his tail off," Letarte said. "I wish you could plan for strategies like this. We haven't won any race that we've been the best car at this year. We've had years where we can't do anything right and times when we can't do anything wrong."
Newman sat on the pole for the third straight race but gave up the lead to Denny Hamlin on the first lap. He grabbed the lead from Hamlin just before the caution came out on lap 56 and led 11 laps before the caution came out for debris.
Newman made a furious charge on the final lap and was within inches of passing Gordon when the yellow came out for the rain that eventually ended the race.
"It was a good run all day," said Newman, who picked up his second straight second place finish and fifth top-10 in the past six races. "It's kind of mixed emotions because we've got a good finishing position, but we sure know we're capable of a win."
Newman suspected that he was down to his last lap to try to take the lead before the rain came and nearly made the winning pass when Gordon slowed for the rain.
"It rained on the right side of my windshield on the back straightaway the lap before, so I knew I had to get it done that lap," said Newman, who was pulling up beside Gordon as the caution came out. "When he came through there the first time it was raining for him the next lap, he checked up and I just stayed gas down because I knew where it was raining."
Martin Truex Jr., who claimed his first career win last week at Dover, started third and led a lap early while green flag pit stops cycled through. He struggled with grip early in the race but was coming on by the midway point and finished third.
"I've got mixed emotions on it," said Truex, who led one lap. "I'm happy to go home with a third place finish but at the same time I think at the end there we were catching the 12 and the 24 was coming back to both of us. Who knows what might have been?"
After claiming his first career win two weeks ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Casey Mears took advantage of the same pit strategy as his teammate Gordon to pick up a fourth place finish.
"We've got a couple of good weather men on our team with Letarte and (Mears' crew chief) Darien (Grubb)," said Mears, who led two laps. "It just worked out good. We had a car that was capable of running inside the top five, we just needed to get there. He made a great call."
Tony Stewart started sixth and spent most of the race among the leaders. He swapped the lead with his teammate Hamlin several times during the early laps and was fifth when the red flag came out to end the day.
Hamlin started on the outside of the front row and quickly jumped out to the front, taking the lead from Newman before the second turn. He was celebrating the one year anniversary of his first career Nextel Cup win and was looking for his third win in as many tries at the 2.5 mile tri-oval.
Matt Kenseth started 24th, but enjoyed a solid run and finished ninth. He moved into second in the championship point standings while Jimmie Johnson dropped to fourth after finishing 42nd.
After a tumultuous week, Kurt Busch enjoyed a solid run at Pocono. Busch, who won the July event here in 2005, was anxious to make back some of the 100 points that he lost after being penalized by NASCAR for making contact with Tony Stewart on pit road during the closing laps at Dover last week. Busch was forced into his backup car after hitting the wall hard in practice on Friday. He started the race 27th and finished 16th.
Chad McCumbee made his first career start in Kyle Petty's #45 Dodge. After winning the ARCA race at Pocono on Saturday, McCumbee started 35th on Sunday and finished 25th.