When NASCAR fans think of Pocono Raceway, they usually think of long drawn out races, few lead changes and the occasional two or three car accident that jars the crowd awake long enough to catch the end of the race. Sunday’s race seemed did not fit the description of the typical Pocono race at all. With 27 lead changes, nine cautions and a green white checkered battle to the finish, racing at Pocono was something it hasn’t been in a long time. The race was exciting and fun to watch.
With seven laps to go, Jeff Gordon finally powered past teammate, Kasey Kahne, after a lengthy two lap battle for the lead spot. As the laps continued to wind down, it seemed like Jeff Gordon was all but assured his seventh win at the Tricky Triangle.
Fate had different plans for the veteran driver as the caution came out for Matt Kenseth, who spun out in the Tunnel Turn with four laps to go, forcing one more restart showdown between Kahne and Gordon.
On the final restart Gordon jumped out to a quick lead over Kahne who seemed to be in danger of losing his spot to Kurt Busch early on. Just as it looked like Gordon had cleared the rest of the field and would cruise to victory with two to go, Kahne used the top groove to gain momentum and ricochet passed Gordon for the top spot and the win at Pocono.
Jeff Gordon would finish second, moving him up one spot in the standings to ninth. Kurt Busch finished third, Ryan Newman followed up his Brickyard 400 win with a fourth place showing at Pocono, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished fifth.
Kahne talked about his battle with Gordon on the final restart:
“On that final restart, I spun my tires a little bit and he (Gordon) got a great jump, and Kurt pushed me all the way to Turn 1, which really helped. I had one opportunity to either go for it or make it work or not. As good as our (car) was all day long, I thought we could make that work on the outside.”
The win is Kahne’s second of 2013 (Bristol) and the 16th win of his career. His first place finish at Pocono also slides him up to eight in points, 18 points ahead of 11th place. Winning the race will also give him 10 extra bonus points if he stays in the top-ten come Chase time. With an 18 point lead over 11th place and two wins as backup for a wild-card spot, Kahne definitely has some breathing room heading into the final five races before The Chase.
Gordon’s second place finish may not have been exactly the way he wanted his day to end, but the top-5 finish does give him momentum heading into Watkins Glen next Sunday, a track Gordon has won at four times in his career.
When asked about how Kahne got away on the final restart, Gordon responded:
“I got a perfect restart on that last one, probably jumped him a little bit. And I got in front of him, and it looked like I needed to block the inside, so I kind of protected the inside, and he blasted up around the outside and outdrove me through turn one.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s third place finish marks his fifth top-five of the season and keeps him fifth in the point standings, 62 points ahead of 11th place. Since Jr. is a virtual lock for The Chase for the Sprint Cup this season, the question becomes can he win one of the next five races and pocket ten bonus points heading into the postseason.
Dark horse Chase contender, Kurt Busch gained one spot in the standings to 13th on Sunday, only 11 points out of 10th place. Busch has wowed fans this season with his great finishes with Furniture Row Racing and would be a great underdog story for the postseason if he makes the Chase this year. 11 points out of 10th place, Busch will definitely be looking for a win to gain him a chance at the wild card spot if he can’t overcome the deficit.
With Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale, Jr. all having great finishes on Sunday, you may be wondering, what happened to Jimmie Johnson? The four time Sprint Cup Series Champion got the pole for the Gobowling.com 400 and led 43 laps of the race, before blowing a tire on lap 76 and hitting the wall.
The blown tire put Johnson back to 24th place, but a late caution and the final restart moved Johnson up nine positions in the final two laps to finish the race in 13th place. The top-15 finish keeps his points lead steady at 77 points ahead of second place, Clint Bowyer.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series heads to New York for their second road course race of the season at Watkins Glen. Jeff Gordon remains an obvious favorite with four wins at the 3.4 mile road course, but this could also be a great spot for drivers like Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to snap their respective winless streaks this season.
And let’s not forget last year’s race at The Glen, where Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose battled it out in the final moments of the race, before Ambrose was able to best Keselowski, and get his second Sprint Cup win of his career.
This race is also a great time for the road course ringers to shine in the premiere series of NASCAR. Expect ringers like Alex Kennedy, Ron Fellows, and Victor Gonzales, Jr. to mix it up with The Cup Series regulars this week and possibly give the veterans a few pointers about how to road race.
If you’re sitting here wondering if a road course ringer is capable of getting a win in NASCAR’S premiere series, look at Richard Petty Motorsports driver, Marcos Ambrose, who not only won this race two years in a row, he also won there before in the Nationwide Series.