Gordon wins rain-shortened Pocono race
Jeff Gordon, one of NASCAR racing's biggest rainmakers, got a shower just when he needed it in Sunday's Pennsylvania 400.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
* Denotes Rookie
Average Speed of Race Winner: 139.249 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 45 Mins, 34 Secs.
Margin of Victory: Caution.
Caution Flags: 3 for 14 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Montoya 1-7; D. Hamlin 8-10; D. Earnhardt Jr. 11-20; J. McMurray 21-23; B. Keselowski 24-31; D. Earnhardt Jr. 32-38; J. Johnson 39-46; M. Kenseth 47; K. Kahne 48; Kurt Busch 49-51; J. Johnson 52-75; M. Kenseth 76-78; J. Johnson 79-90; J. Gordon 91-98.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Johnson 3 times for 44 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 17 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 8 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 8 laps; J. Montoya 1 time for 7 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 4 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 3 laps; J. McMurray 1 time for 3 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 3 laps; K. Kahne 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 12 in Points: D. Earnhardt Jr. - 744; M. Kenseth - 739; G. Biffle - 738; J. Johnson - 736; M. Truex Jr. - 694; T. Stewart - 691; B. Keselowski - 690; D. Hamlin - 683; K. Harvick - 681; C. Bowyer - 679; K. Kahne - 622; C. Edwards - 619.
Winner's Press Conference
JEFF GORDON AND CREW CHIEF, ALAN GUSTAFSON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET ~ WINNERS
THE MODERATOR: We'll hear from our winning crew chief, that is Alan Gustafson. Big win today here for the No. 24.
Congratulations, Alan. A big win for the 24 car. You now move up to 12th in points and you are the number two wildcard contender. A lot happened here in the last four or five hours for the 24 team. Certainly an interesting race when you have the rain coming, you have to be thinking ahead. How does that play into a day like today?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Obviously it was a great day for us. We gained some momentum the last several weeks with performance in points. But we know we needed a win to put ourselves in contention for the wildcard. Winning today was a huge deal.
We didn't have the is fastest car, I don't think, but I think we had a good enough car to drive from 27th to top5. Fortunately we got a break.
It was a tough call on the rain. I thought that potentially we were going to have to restart the race and run for a little bit. Fortunately for us, we didn't have to. It seemed to me that Kasey was going to be our biggest competition, but he had a flat right rear tire. So it all worked out our way. It was a really good day.
I am really proud of Jeff and all the guys for persevering and putting ourselves in a position to win the race today.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll hear from our race‑winning driver, Jeff Gordon. This is Jeff's 86th career win. He's third all time in the history of the sport. Sixth win at Pocono. He becomes the all‑time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono, passing Bill Elliott. Maybe even more importantly at least right now, Jeff Gordon moves into second as far as wildcard contenders. As I said to Alan, a lot happened for the team the last three or four hours.
Talk about how you come in here, you know you had to get a win, you got a win, and now you're right back in it.
JEFF GORDON: Pocono has been a special place for us. We got the win last year. It's been a very interesting year, to say the least. I'm most proud of Alan. I mean, we've had some trying times this year. A crew chief has so many responsibilities, so much pressure on him. I mean, the driver does, too. I just feel as a crew chief, it's the toughest job out there.
When we've had cars capable of winning races, like Martinsville, I can think of a handful of times we were in position to win 'em, and things didn't go our way for whatever reason.
To see this race unfold the way it did, you know, certainly makes up for a lot of those would have, could have, should haves this year. Things are coming together at the right time. The attitude of this team is that we don't ever give up. We keep fighting. We go to the racetrack, try to win. Today we got the win.
It's nice to know that things can still go our way. I hate it for the 48, those guys, what happened. But we haven't had a whole lot go our way this year. To have the first four cars in front of you all slide up the racetrack, you go by and win the race with the rain. It's nice to know that at least things can still go our way. So this is a big boost for us as a team.
I think more importantly than that, we drove from 27th up into the top 5 or 6. That's no easy task here at Pocono.
It wasn't like we just kind of fluked into it. We put ourselves into position for that good fortune to happen. That's all we've been talking about we need to do more of and we did it today.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions now for either Jeff or Alan.
Q. Alan, right before the restart, you radioed Jeff and said, this is it. Did you predict this was going to happen?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No. I felt like our car was a good car. It's just so hard to tell, clean air, I don't know if we were as good as the 48 or the 17. I felt like the 5 was really good.
In that position, I was explaining to Jeff that this was a restart, we need to get a good one, and then we could contend for a top‑three finish.
But I've seen a lot of restarts here at Pocono, as I'm sure you have, and anything can happen. I'm not surprised that happened. Usually the guy that gets the run off of two is usually the guy leading at the start/finish line.
Jeff got a great restart. He basically put us in position I think by clearing Kasey, that was the key. He got Kasey cleared into one there and then the seas parted.
It was more I was trying to inform Jeff the urgency of the situation that we weren't going to get another shot because the rain was coming. Everybody in this room knows we're counting every point, and everything matters for us in this season right now so we wanted to get all we could get.
Q. Jeff, you talk about how you came up from 27th to put yourself in position. Can you talk about how you did that. Was it adjustments on pit road? Good car, bad qualifying? What got you up front from the back?
JEFF GORDON: I'll be honest; it was a rough weekend for us. We ran really good here earlier in the season when we were here in June. I mean, I thought we'd come back here and really be strong.
In practice, we were off. Even when we found the balance, didn't quite have the speed. Then the one shining moment we had in practice was we made a qualifying run and the car was pretty good. Went out to qualify, most of it was just me trying too hard. Track freed up, lost a little grip. I pushed it too hard and took ourselves out of a top‑10 starting position on my birthday at the same time. It was not a fun birthday (laughter). I was kicking myself.
So this is why when I get asked in here, when things aren't going well, about, you know, how is your relationship with Alan? What about your team, your finishes? I just keep praising this guy because, I'm telling you, when we have moments, a day like we had, they drop the green, I have all the confidence in the world in that racecar, that it's going to be good. It was.
They dropped the green and we just started passing cars. We were actually even able to make adjustments and make it better.
And it's no secret; our pit crew got criticized for last week. They stepped up. I mean, that last green‑flag stop, it was a great stop. We made up a ton of time on pit road right there and had a good racecar.
All those things I've been talking about that haven't gone our way this year, they did go our way. We had a fast racecar. We had good pit stops. He called a good race. I got a good restart. Yeah, the 48 got loose.
All the things that haven't gone our way, they did today. That's what I love, is that it solidifies to us, to this team, that these things can happen. We just got to keep fighting.
Q. Jeff, Rick Hendrick predicted in the pre‑season he was going to put all four cars in the Chase. For a while it didn't seem like that was going to happen. After today, you and Kasey are in the two-wildcard spots.
JEFF GORDON: Now, now, typical media. You guys start getting ahead of yourselves here.
All I will say is we've been on a nice streak of finishes. Even though they haven't been wins, they've been really solid finishes, top 5s, top 10s, that have gotten us further up in the points. That is something to build on, 'cause this year, the way things have gone, we haven't had a lot to build on. The last several weeks, we've had something to build on.
When you do that, you do a better job of getting yourself in position for something like what happened today to happen. We knew how badly we needed a win, and we got it. But that's half the battle.
Now, in my opinion, this only puts more pressure on us over these next several weeks, but we're ready for the challenge. I think with all we've been through this year, I said this also, if we can get to Victory Lane and get some things to go our way, this team, because of what we've been through, that we've stayed together, haven't pointed fingers, it will make you stronger.
This is a great moment for our team because I think we're really fired up for next week's race, and the coming weeks, to legitimately have a come‑from‑behind season and get ourselves in there, live up to the pressure of our boss (laughter).
Q. Within the walls of Hendrick, did you feel you could do it, even when things got pretty low the last couple months? It was looking bleak in April for both teams.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I always felt like we could do it. Yeah, it looks bleak. I can remember here, our garage stall was on the very end, 25th or 26th in points. When you're in that position with Jeff Gordon as a driver, it's not a good feeling.
But I knew, and I've said this a lot, I think the performance of our car as far as sheer speed, this may be one of the best years of my career. The speeds of the cars have been fantastic and Jeff has been great. I knew the key ingredients were there.
There are some unfortunate circumstances. Martinsville was a big one. I don't think that was anything we had done as a team. I think the other races we shot ourselves in the foot.
The saving grace for me was I knew the problem we had to fix was ourselves. That's actually a good thing to have because you can work on it. If you don't know what you're addressing or what you have to clean up, lacking a ton of speed, been in those situations, it's really tough. I just felt we had to get it right. When we do get it right, we'll have a chance to win a lot of races.
I think we've really competed to win every race I can think of the last five, six weeks. They haven't been 1‑2‑3 finishes like we'd like, but I felt like we've been in position. We just needed something to go our way. It went our way today.
As far as what you asked about Mr. Hendrick, besides the pressure I put on myself, he has never in my life put any pressure on me at all. But when he wants something, he does so much for us, that we want to get him whatever he wants so bad and we work really hard for that.
I know that's something he wants to do that he's not been able to do in the sport. I think he has put together the teams that can get four cars in the Chase. I think he's put together the driver and the crew chief combinations. If we're the guy that doesn't get that for him, that's going to be tough for me to swallow.
JEFF GORDON: We don't want to be the ones that mess it up (laughter).
Q. I was wondering, Jeff, when you look at the magnitude of what you've accomplished, 86 wins, what does it feel like truly? Are you mired in the Chase race in your mind or can you enjoy and share with the family?
JEFF GORDON: Today was an amazing victory experience, probably one of the best in my career because with the rain, the lightning, wind blowing sideways, everything going on, you know; I was just so excited to be able to have my family here. It's the first time I've had all of them here for a victory. I didn't care if it was under the shed or in the garage. I didn't care where it was.
That experience to me today means so much more than anything else. And we talk about it. You know, we have these race wins that you come up short, the family's there. My wife said I so badly wanted to experience that. Even my wife, she's not been able to experience all those wins, those multiple‑win seasons and stuff. I want her to be able to feel what it's like. I know how much it means to her.
Ella is getting to the age where it's exciting. Leo was able to hold up his finger, No. 1. That was cool. But today was a great day for that reason in itself, not to mention all the others.
And it's Alan's birthday. He has his family here. This is a cool day. This is one that I'm not going to forget.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: That 'Drive For Five' thing has been a little worn out. Let's get ourselves in the Chase; we can get that thing going again. He can count to five, so I'm sure we can get him to hold up all five.
Q. Jeff, everybody knew the weather was coming. Everybody was trying to get all they could out of the last restart. Did you know it was going to be chaotic there?
JEFF GORDON: They're always chaotic. My biggest thing was I was on the outside and I didn't want to be on the outside going through turns one and two.
Our car was a little bit tight down there in general. As hard as you're going to have to push things, you know how hard the competitors are going to be pushing, not to mention the opportunity for somebody to take it three‑wide, there's so many things that go through your mind. All I wanted to do was get a really good restart.
I actually got a better one than I anticipated, and it looked like Kasey maybe didn't get quite as good a one. 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.
But the restarts here, especially in the closing laps, you know the rain is coming, so you know it's closing laps, it's crazy, it's absolutely crazy. We could have just as easily lost six positions as we did make up four or five. So, pretty awesome.
Q. I assume you haven't heard, but apparently a couple fans got hit by lightning after the race. I know you are racing, but you could see it, did you have any scary points getting from your car to where they ended up staging you for Victory Lane?
JEFF GORDON: I'm pretty sure I know which one it was. We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren't doing any good. There was a huge, huge crack from lightning. You could tell it was very close. I mean, that's the thing that's going to take away from the victory is the fact that somebody was affected by that.
I mean, the fans here are so loyal and avid. When we were going back to the garage area, there was a group of fans chanting up there that were not leaving. That's just so unfortunate because they're so loyal and avid here, so you hate to hear something like that. Certainly our thoughts are with them. I hope everything is okay there.
Q. Jeff, I don't know how Alan feels about it, but you said you don't believe in luck. Has that changed today?
JEFF GORDON: No, no. I mean, it hasn't. We were in sixth position because we drove up through there with a strong racecar. We had good pit stops. I got a good restart. Jimmie got loose, him racing.
I don't believe that's luck, good luck or bad luck. 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. Some people might call that luck. I call that, you know, a hard day's work of getting into that position for something to go your way and go right.
Listen, that kind of stuff happens in racing all the time. Might not be as blunt as that one was today, but through every race, some sequence of events has to happen for you, and sometimes that means bad things for others and good things for you, good fortune, bad fortune. I still don't look at that as a luck situation.
And today was the first time I didn't have a good luck charm in the car. I've had fans sending me stuff. My wife has given me things, my daughter. You can imagine. Today was the first day we didn't have something in there. That just tells you, Just work hard, you win as a team.
Q. I think you said a minute ago you were looking forward to next week going to Watkins Glen. Been a while since you won. Are you excited coming off the win or have you been looking forward to getting back there for other reasons?
JEFF GORDON: Both. Both. I feel like we found some things that made us better for Sonoma. We tested at Road Atlanta, which I think is a better track for Watkins Glen than it is Sonoma. I'm pretty optimistic.
I always love the road courses. Recent years, I just feel like we've been missing a little something there. You know, I don't feel like I've been able to give good information to get us better there. That's been the frustrating thing.
But with the win, I don't care where we're going next week, I'd be excited about it. But the fact that it is Watkins Glen, I think our cars are prepared to do well there, then I'm excited.
Q. Winning the Heisman Humanitarian award and winning the race, what does that feel like to you?
JEFF GORDON: I was doing hospitality for my sponsors, answering a few questions. A lot of people bringing up Heisman, doing work for our foundation. The Kick‑It car won the 360 Nationals in Knoxville that we were sponsoring with my foundation.
I mean, off the track, so many things have been going well. I feel like the trip to Rwanda, all the things, we've been winning a lot off the track, just haven't been getting it done on the track.
After the Heisman award happening here, having our families here, this win, birthday celebrations, life can't get much better than it is right now, I can tell you that. I'm looking forward to savoring this moment. That's the nice thing about not winning. When you're not winning much, I tell you, you appreciate it a whole lot more and it sticks with you longer and you don't take it for granted. This is one we're not going to take for granted.
I think you're able to really understand the meaning of it so much more. So for that I'm thankful.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Gordon, Alan Gustafson, congratulations on this win today.
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