Johnson’s Bobble Brings Gordon Unlikely Pocono Victory
Jimmie Johnson, for much of the day at Pocono looked primed for a second straight victory. Jeff Gordon? He looked happy to simply finish fifth in a year where bad luck has ruined too many strong performances.
But during a wacky ending at the Tricky Triangle, the field was reminded luck doesn’t always tilt Johnson’s way. A late caution bunched up the field, erasing a three-second lead for Johnson and setting up a series of circumstances that handed Gordon a surprise victory at Pocono. Battling for fifth on a restart, Lap 91 of the 160-lap scheduled distance the No. 24 car darted out front when Johnson, of all people entered Turn 1 with a right-rear tire and flat lost it.
“When I was cooling my tires down through the tunnel coming to the green I noticed that something didn’t feel right,” Johnson said. “I kept trying to clean the tires off and it got a little better so I just assumed I had trash on my tires, but 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.”
That wreck included Matt Kenseth, on the outside of the front row for the restart along with Denny Hamlin. As others behind slowed up, Gordon saw the opening needed to move ahead; a slip to the inside was all she wrote as the No. 24 Chevrolet darted up front just before a raging downpour brought Pocono to a screeching halt. With just 98 of 160 laps complete, the race was official and suddenly, Gordon’s evasive move proved the tipping point in turning his car towards Victory Lane.
“I actually got a better (restart) than I anticipated, and it looked like Kasey maybe didn’t get quite as good a one,” he said. “When I saw that opening to get to that inside, I was taking it. I was pretty happy at that moment because I thought if I get down at the bottom, we got a shot at getting another one of the guys that’s in the outside lane, if not two. So, little did I know what was going to happen.”
Gordon’s surge left Kasey Kahne sitting second, also breathing a sigh of relief at the race’s early ending. A flat tire would have forced the No. 5 Chevrolet down pit road if the race went back to green. Martin Truex, Jr. wound up third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart as the final results were all jumbled up by a wreck other drivers thought might have been preventable.
“We went off into one and I could hear his pipes,” said Matt Kenseth. “I wasn’t sure he had lifted yet. He drove in really, really far and spun out underneath me and I got wrecked. I don’t think he had a flat, did he? I don’t think so.”
“Jimmie got loose, him racing,” added Gordon, whose teammate’s loss was clearly his gain. “I don’t think it was bad luck on Jimmie’s part. The car got loose. I don’t think it was good luck on our part. We were in the right place at the right time.”
Gordon’s victory puts all four Hendrick cars in the Chase, as of now for the first time all season. A goal for the car owner prior to the season, his teams are working hard to make it happen; they’ve now won seven of the past eleven points-paying events.
Just three cautions for 14 laps slowed the race, run quickly in one hour, 45 minutes after starting the day with a nearly two-hour delay for rain. Only two cautions for the Busch brothers – one for Kyle, which served as a competition yellow and one for Kurt – slowed the race pace before Mother Nature took over. The long green-flag runs hurt those that missed the setup, like polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya (who faded to 20th); a small number of stops meant limited adjustments and an inability to dial in the car on Pocono’s new pavement.
Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Regan Smith, and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-10 finishers. The race was run in front of a strong crowd of 85,000.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. Coverage starts at Noon Sunday on ESPN with race coverage beginning at 1:00pm EDT.
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