Gordon didn’t lead a lap under the green flag, but he notched a critically important victory at Pocono Raceway, thanks to an opportunistic move to the front after a restart on Lap 91 of a scheduled 160.
Coincidentally, it was a mistake by Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, that enabled Gordon to celebrate in Victory Lane, and, more important, to resurrect his prospects for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The victory was Gordon’s first of the season and the 86th of his career. It was his sixth win at Pocono and the second there in a rain-shortened race. Gordon took the checkered flag after 106 laps when rain halted the June 2007 event at the 2.5-mile triangular track.
On Sunday, NASCAR parked the cars on Lap 98, after they ran seven laps under caution as rain moved into the area. When what started as a light rain became a torrent, NASCAR called the race.
Gordon surged into the lead when Johnson got loose in Turn 1 on lap 91 and knocked Matt Kenseth’s Ford into the outside wall. Gordon, who had restarted sixth, saw an opening, dodged a handful of cars wrecking around him and took the lead.
“I’ve never seen the seas part like that,” said Gordon, who moved to 13th in the series standings and the second wild-card position for the Chase. “I got a good restart, so I really got up to fifth as we were getting into the braking zone going into (Turn) 1. I don’t know what happened to the 48. I just saw he got loose, and when he got loose, it took everybody that was in front of us up the race track or into the wall.
“I just made it right to the bottom, stood in the gas and drove out . . . and we were leading.”
For Gordon, who has experienced more than his share of bad luck this season, the victory was a welcome reversal of fortune.
“It’s nice to know that things can still go our way,” Gordon said. “The way our year has gone, we’ll definitely take it like this. I tell you what, with all the things that have gone wrong for us this year, I’m hoping that this is the one that makes up for it all.”
Kasey Kahne finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart. Despite a broken transmission, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came home 32nd and kept his lead in the standings by five points over Kenseth (23rd Sunday), six over Greg Biffle (15th) and eight over Johnson (14th).
Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Regan Smith and Marcos Ambrose completed the top 10.
Kahne felt his car was the equal of Gordon’s, but mistakes on pit road cost him a chance to contend for the win.
“I screwed up in the pits and slid through a little bit and got on top of the hose (to an air gun), so we couldn’t use the air hose there,” Kahne said. “It cost us a lot of time on the race track and a couple positions.
“I was pretty frustrated with myself — can’t make those mistakes — but the car was really solid.”
Notes: Gordon won Sunday’s race two days after the announcement that he will become the first NASCAR driver to receive the Heisman Humanitarian Award for his charitable work for children’s causes. . . . Gordon and Newman are tied in the standings with 611 points each. Gordon gets the nod for the second provisional wild-card spot on a tiebreaker (more fifth-place finishes, given that the drivers are tied for number of wins, seconds, thirds and fourths). . . . Hendrick drivers have won seven of the last 11 races. For the first time since 2007, Hendrick has put all four of its cars in the winner’s circle. . . . Smith scored his first top-10 of the season. . . . Johnson led a race-high 44 laps but was credited with a 14th-place finish — where he blended back into line — after losing pace on Lap 91.