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Jeff Gordon wins rain-shortened Pocono race

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Aug. 05, 2012

Everything that possibly could go wrong has for Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team this season.

That’s left them on the outside looking in as far as competing for the Sprint Cup Series championship.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that a day was needed when everything went right to put them back in the picture.

A late wreck on a restart involving then-leader Jimmie Johnson allowed Gordon to take the lead, and his victory in Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway was ensured when NASCAR halted the race after 98 of 160 laps because of heavy rain.

“You can’t ever give up. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. You’ve got to just try to go out there and win races. For all the things that have gone wrong for us this year, I still can’t believe what just happened,” Gordon said.

“But, I think this is the one that makes up for all the ones that have gotten away. I’m just so proud of this team. They just never give up and they gave me a great race car.”

The celebration of Gordon’s victory – the 86th of his career – was tempered by the news that 10 fans were hit by at least two lightning strikes shortly after the race was halted.

One fan later died, track officials confirmed. Nine remained hospitalized late Sunday, including one in critical condition.

The weather was just one factor in Gordon’s victory, which has catapulted him into one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase with five races remaining before the 12-driver field is set.

Another was a wreck on a restart on Lap 91 started when Johnson got loose and slid into Matt Kenseth, triggering an accident that also collected Denny Hamlin.

By the time the caution flag came out, Gordon – who had restarted sixth – had dove below the melee and into the lead. The race would not be restarted.

“I’ve never seen the seas part quite like that before like they did going down into (Turn) 1,” Gordon said. “I got a great restart and was able to dive to the inside in front of Kasey (Kahne), and I saw (Johnson) get sideways and it just took them all out.

“And I was like – wow.”

Shortly after the wreck, light rain began falling and after seven caution laps NASCAR brought the cars down pit road. Shortly thereafter, as the storm intensified, the race was called.

Kahne finished second, Martin Truex Jr. was third, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Tony Stewart was fifth.

Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a transmission early in the race and finished 32nd. He leads Kenseth by five points.

“When I was cooling my tires down through the tunnel coming to the green I noticed that something didn’t feel right. I kept trying to clean the tires off and it got a little better so I just assumed I had trash on my tires,” Johnson said.

“When I got down into Turn 1 I realized that I had a right-rear (tire) flat. Unfortunate that we lost the lead there and we got a couple of cars in the process.”

Gordon isn’t ready to cash an admission ticket to the Chase just yet, but he certainly feels his team is worthy.

“The last several weeks, we’ve had something to build on,” he said. “We knew how badly we needed a win, and we got it. But that’s half the battle.

“I think with all we’ve been through this year, if we can get to Victory Lane and get some things to go our way, this team – because of what we’ve been through, we’ve stayed together and haven’t pointed fingers – it will make us stronger.

“This is a great moment for our team.”

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