Posted by: Candice Corrigan, follow @candicecorrigan
August 5, 2012
It rained on Jeff Gordon’s parade again this weekend, but he’s not complaining. Gordon took home his first win of the season on Sunday afternoon in the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. With his win, Gordon took over one of the “Wild Card” positions in the points and became the winningest driver at Pocono with six victories.
Rain at the track delayed the start of the Pennsylvania 400 by 90 minutes and just over 90 laps were completed before it made its return.
Gordon, who celebrated his 41st birthday on Saturday, was running in the sixth position when leader Jimmie Johnson got loose on the lap-91 restart and slid up the track into Matt Kenseth. Kenseth spun and collected Denny Hamlin in the wreck, putting Gordon in the point position. With severe thunderstorms just miles out, the majority of the field stayed out in anticipation of the end of the race. Sure enough, the downpour came during the caution laps and the race was called on lap 98.
Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who celebrates his birthday with a win today, wasn’t sure the race was going to be called after the last caution flag waved.
“I thought potentially we were going to have to restart the race,” Gustafson said. He also added that he didn’t believe they had the best car in the field.
Gordon gave credit for the win to Gustafson and the Hendrick Motorsports team. Even though most people would call the beginning of the season for the No.24 team a rash of bad luck, Gordon says he still does not believe in luck.
“Today is the first time I haven’t had a good luck charm in the car,” Gordon said.
In the media center after the race, a media member informed Gordon that several fans had been struck by lightning while leaving the race. Gordon expressed his sadness and said the fact that those events had unfolded would definitely take away from the happiness of his win. As of 8 p.m. Sunday evening, one of the three fans struck had been pronounced dead. At least nine others remained hospitalized.
Gordon is the last of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars to get a win this season. Gordon’s HMS teammate Kasey Kahne finished in the second position with a flat right-rear tire. Kahne fought back after losing several positions on an earlier pit stop when he ran over his air hose.
The first caution flag flew on lap 19 when a blown tire put Kyle Busch in the wall. The caution served as NASCAR’s scheduled competition caution that was designed to give teams a chance to check tire wear since heavy rain had washed all the rubber off the track.
Defending race winner Brad Keselowski opted to stay out on the caution to try a different pit schedule than the rest of the field. The team’s strategy and pit calls earned the No. 22 Penske Dodge a fourth-place finish. He gained two positions in the points standings this week to end up in seventh.
Martin Truex Jr. also gained two positions with his third place finish. Truex Jr. now holds the fifth position in points but has no victories.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led several laps early until he broke a transmission on lap 49. His streak of most lead-lap finishes in NASCAR history ended at the Tricky Triangle today. It seemed his points lead was all but lost until Kenseth’s wreck put Jr. back atop the points standings at the end. Kenseth holds on to the second place position in the Chase standings.
With just five races until the Chase field is set at Richmond, the fight for the “Wild Card” position is just that – wild. Gordon is tied with Ryan Newman in points, but has more top-five finishes and therefore takes the second “Card” position for the week. Kasey Kahne holds tight to the other with his two wins this season. Last year’s Championship runner-up Carl Edwards holds a higher points position than Busch and Newman but has no wins so far; therefore, he is not eligible for the “Wild Card” position. While Kyle Busch’s devastating finish took the second “Wild Card” position away from him this week, another win would allow him to recapture the spot.
The summer is winding down and the action is heating up. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves on to Watkins Glen next weekend and another shakeup in the standings is likely only a week away.