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Shifting fortunes at Pocono favour Gordon

Jeff Gordon saw off a strong challenge from Kurt Busch to win the 5-Hour Energy 500 Pocono Cup race, after Juan Montoya, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin all hit problems.
Prior to the start of the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, the big talking point - apart from who punched who, and who was fined how much for doing what exactly - had been about the changes to transmission gear ratios and rear-end gear ratios mandated by NASCAR for the race.

It certainly added a little spice to a long-distance event (the race lasted almost three and a half hours, only a little shorter than the entire rain-affected span of the Canadian F1 Grand Prix) that frankly has lacked excitement in recent years.

Previously Pocono - a 2.5-mile triangle - had been classified as an oval event, a decision that mandated settings which essentially invalidated third gear and frankly meant shifting was all but useless;- many drivers no longer bothered shifting anymore. But this year NASCAR reconsidered that and announced settings treating Pocono more like a road course event, and drivers had to consider exactly what that would mean

"I think that we're really only shifting in one corner, in turn 1," said Denny Hamlin who has won at Pocono twice in the last three years. "I do think it's going to be tough on the reliability of these race cars for 500 miles. Shifting takes its toll on engines, for sure. Somebody will break one."

Fuel economy could be another factor, if the race comes down to fuel conservation as we've seen at Charlotte and Kansas. "I think you use more fuel shifting and getting into third gear and then lifting and standing on it again going into fourth you burn more fuel shifting," pointed out Carl Edwards.

Brett Bodine, NASCAR's research and development director of competition, thought it would have more impact: "To me, it does have the potential to make the action from turn 2 to the third turn more interesting. [It] adds an element for mistakes, which would allow some drivers to capitalise on those mistakes."

But when it came down to it, no one could be sure until the green flag fell for the start of the race at 1.20pm exactly what was going to happen or who the new settings would most benefit.

Kurt Busch led to the green flag but he was rapidly pushed aside by Denny Hamlin who surged into the lead from the second row of the grid. He opened up a 2.3s lead by lap 9 despite complaining that his clutch pedal wasn't feeling right with the gear shifting; at which point a caution for debris came out. It didn't stop Hamlin from continuing to lead in the next short stint before a second debris yellow came out on lap 18.

Juan Montoya took over the lead for the restart after opting for only two tyres during the round of pit stops, but was quickly overwhelmed by Hamlin who screamed back to the lead from fifth place and simply would not be denied.


by Andrew Lewin



Related Pictures

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Jeff Gordon celebrates winning the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, his record-tying 5th victory at the track. [Picture Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon crosses the finish line to win the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, his second victory of 2011. [Picture Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon and Juan Montoya battled for position throughout the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway. [Picture Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Despite leading a race-high 76 laps, Denny Hamlin experienced trouble on lap 159, having to pit twice after his left rear tyre went flat. He finished 19th. [Picture Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images]
Kurt Busch leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to the green flag to start the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway in June 2011 [Picture Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images]
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