Pocono, PA – Mother Nature gave Jeff Gordon a huge birthday present on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
One day after turning 41 years old, Gordon put himself back into contention to make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by winning the rain- shortened Pennsylvania 400 at this 2.5-mile triangular racetrack. He now has the most victories here with six.
Starting 27th, Gordon took the lead for the first time when a five-car crash occurred just after a restart on lap 91. Gordon was running outside the top- five for the restart, but leader Jimmie Johnson lost control heading into turn one and slipped up the track into second-place runner Matt Kenseth. Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton were also involved in the incident.
Gordon, the four-time Cup Series champion, managed to avoid the accident and wiggled his way to the front just before the caution flag waved for the third and final time. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, took over the second spot. Gordon led eight laps under caution before a severe thunderstorm moved over the area. The start of the race was delayed 90 minutes due to rain.
"I got a great restart and was able to dive into the inside in front of Kasey, and I saw the 48 (Johnson) get sideways, and it just took them all out," Gordon said. "I was thinking about the (next) restart, and what we were going to do. I didn't want the same thing happening to us that happened to (Johnson). Then it started raining."
The race was called 62 laps short of its 160-lap, 400-mile distance. Gordon claimed his 86th career win in NASCAR's premier series but his first since September 2011 at Atlanta (31 races ago).
Gordon now has the most wins at Pocono with six. He won a rain-shortened race here in June 2007.
"We've won races like this here before, but I'll tell you what, the way our year is going, we'll definitely take it like this," Gordon said. "Man, I've never seen the seas part quite like that before."
Struggling up to this point of the season, Gordon desperately needed a win to give him an opportunity to qualify for the Chase, which begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland. His first victory of the season allowed him to take over the second and final card spot, as five races remain before NASCAR's playoffs begin.
Kahne, with two victories on the season, remained in the first wild card position following his second-place run. Kahne suffered a flat tire during the multi-car wreck but managed to stay on track during the caution. He also recovered from a pit-road mishap that occurred early in the race.
"The Hendrick Motorsports cars were really fast, and the engines ran great," Kahne said. "I screwed up in the pits. I slipped through a little bit and got on top of the air hose, so it slowed us up and lost a lot of track position there. After that, we were able to get back through on that restart."
Martin Truex Jr. finished third, followed by Brad Keselowski, who won this race one year ago. Teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman placed fifth and sixth, respectively.
Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Regan Smith and Marcos Ambrose completed the top-10.
Johnson, who won last weekend's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ended up finishing 14th. He led the most laps with 44.
"When I was cooling my tires down through the tunnel coming to the green, I noticed that something didn't feel right," Johnson said. "I kept trying to clean the tires off, and it got a little better, so I just assumed I had trash on my tires. But when I got down into turn one, I realized that I had a right- rear (tire) flat. It's unfortunate that we lost the lead there, and we got a couple of cars in the process."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 17 laps in the early going but later suffered a transmission problem and headed to the garage for repairs. Earnhardt Jr. eventually returned, finishing 18 laps down in 32nd. His points lead was trimmed to five over Kenseth, who finished 23rd.
"I know the guys in the transmission shop at Hendrick are disappointed, because we don't ever break parts," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It's tough. We had a good run going."
Gordon's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, celebrated his 37th birthday on Sunday.