LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon took advantage of an accident sparked by teammate Jimmie Johnson and a touch of timely rain at Pocono Raceway to win his first race of the season.
Gordon earned his 86th career victory Sunday, winning for the first time since September 2011 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to thrust himself into wild-card contention in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson inadvertently gave his Hendrick Motorsports teammate the help he needed. Johnson got loose off a restart and knocked Matt Kenseth into the wall. Kenseth slid down the track and took out Denny Hamlin. With an unexpected opening, Gordon zoomed to the lead.
“When I saw the opening to get inside, I was taking it,” Gordon said.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The skies opened and cars were ordered off the track. The race was called moments later with 98 of the 160 laps completed.
Gordon, who turned 41 on Saturday, had been hit by a string of bad breaks this season and knew he needed wins over the final six races before the Chase cutoff to have any shot at running for a fifth championship during the 10-race playoffs. Gordon moved into the second wild-card spot that would guarantee him a berth in the field.
“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.”
Gordon, who also won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2007, passed Bill Eilliott for most career wins at Pocono with six.
Kasey Kahne was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was lucky to maintain his overall points lead after he was forced to the garage on lap 51 because of a busted transmission.
He later returned to the track and finished 32nd.
With the storms coming – spotters told their drivers the heavy rain was coming – Johnson was in prime position to follow last week’s win in Indy with another trip to Victory Lane. Something, though, went wrong with Johnson’s car and he made contact with Kenseth. Johnson dropped back but suffered no real damage. Kenseth touched the wall and slid down the track. Hamlin had nowhere to go except right into the side of the No. 17.
Hamlin was taken to the infield care center and complained of discomfort around his abdomen but was released.
Gordon, who was sixth in the restart necessitated by Kurt Busch’s wreck, took off and took the lead.
“I know that you don’t want to win them quite like this, but we’ve earned it because of all the things that we’ve done this year,” Gordon said.
Johnson blamed a right rear flat tire for sparking the accidents.
“I shouldn’t feel bad about that, but not much you can do with a right-rear flat,” he said.
Then the downpour came. The scheduled 400-mile race had already been postponed about two hours because of rain.
Kahne refused to rule out another Gordon championship run if he stays in the Chase field.
“Absolutely. It’s Jeff Gordon. Look what he’s done,” Kahne said.
While Kahne and Gordon had a great race for Hendrick, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had ones to forget.
Earnhardt was lucky to maintain his overall points lead after he was forced to the garage on lap 51 because of a busted transmission. He later returned to the track and finished 32nd.