Jeff Gordon’s improbable victory in the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 did more than break the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion’s 31-race winless streak.
It also vaulted him into championship contention for the first time this entire season.
By winning his first race of the year, Gordon moved to 13th in the Sprint Cup points standings, his highest position so far this year. More importantly, he now is in the second wild-card spot behind teammate Kasey Kahne, who was second at Pocono on Sunday.
After the 26th race of the season at Richmond next month, NASCAR will set the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Chase field will consist of the top 10 in points, plus the two drivers in positions 11-20 with the most victories.
Following Sunday’s event at Pocono Raceway, Kahne is the only driver in the 11-20 grouping with two race wins this season, so he holds down the first wild-card slot.
Of the drivers in that group with one victory each, Gordon leads with 611 points. Ryan Newman has the identical number of points but Gordon leads on tiebreakers, in this case, more top-five finishes — four for Gordon vs. three for Newman.
Kyle Busch, who finished 33rd at Pocono, has 599 points, while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano has 575.
Carl Edwards, last year’s championship runner-up, is 12th in points but has no race victories and is therefore not in wild-card contention at the moment. That could change if he wins one of the next five races before the Chase field is set, but time is running out quickly.
Kahne was pleased with his second-place finish at Pocono, which he managed despite running over an air hose on pit road and getting a flat right-rear tire during the final caution.
“I made a mistake on pit road there, slid too far and slid over the hose,” Kahne said. “It cost us a lot of time on the race track and a couple positions. I was pretty frustrated with myself over that. Can't make those mistakes. But the car was really solid.”
Kahne said he will be looking to get up on the wheel in the upcoming races.
“The team did a great job,” he said. “I wish I would have stepped up a little bit more and done a better job in the pits and not given up all those spots. But it is what it is now. Just got to get better from that. … I was really happy with my car and the performance. I felt we were the best car.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.