Jeff Gordon’s season started under a dark cloud – a blown engine and a 40th-place finish in the Daytona 500.
Clouds have followed Gordon much of the season as he has struggled to get a victory and return to Chase competition.
On Sunday, in a wild turn of events, Gordon used dark clouds to put a new shine on his season.
The veteran driver – he turned 41 Saturday – had the lead when heavy rains ended Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. The win, Gordon’s first since last September, vaulted him into position to get a wild-card entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Gordon rolled into the lead on the final restart as the top four cars were involved in a turn-one crash.
“We haven’t had a whole lot go our way this year,” Gordon understated. “To have the first four cars slide up the track and you go by and you get the weather and win the race. We drove from 27th to the top five, and that’s no easy task here at Pocono.
“It wasn’t like we ‘fluked’ into it. We put ourselves in position for that to happen.”
The win is Gordon’s 86th. He’s third on the all-time win list behind Richard Petty and David Pearson.
Gordon also became the all-time victory leader at Pocono with six.
“Things are coming together at the right time,” Gordon said. “The attitude of this team is that we don’t ever give up. We keep fighting. It’s nice to know that things can still go our way.”
As matters now stand, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Gordon – would make the Chase. Kahne and Gordon currently hold the wild cards with five races remaining to the Chase cutoff.
Gordon said he anticipated some wild activity on what turned out to be the race’s final restart.
“The restarts here are crazy, absolutely crazy,” Gordon said. “We could just as easily have lost six positions as we made up four or five.”
The win, Gordon said, puts the No. 24 team under pressure.
“Now, in my opinion, this only puts more pressure on us over these next several weeks, but we're ready for the challenge,” he said. “I think with all we've been through this year … 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.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.