Jeff Gordon's 2012 fortunes finally turned at Pocono Raceway, when a last minute accident for his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jimmie Johnson cleared the way for him to leap to the front of the Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race just minutes before a storm rolled in and forced the race to be red flagged and the result declared.
However, Gordon's victory celebrations were subdued after news was received after lightning hitting the area around Pocono Raceway immediately after the race was called, which resulted in one fan being killed and nine others being injured, one critically. (See separate story
The race had been delayed for almost two hours to allow the track to be dried after earlier rain by the time that polesitter Juan Montoya led the field to the green flag shortly before 3pm local time, with Denny Hamlin in hot pursuit. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch were quickly past Marcos Ambrose and busy duelling over third place.
Hamlin took the lead down the inside of the frontstretch on lap 8, but the biggest danger was Earnhardt now that he'd seen off Busch, and three laps later he surged past Hamlin to take the lead to the delight of the Pocono fans. Meanwhile early leader Montoya was dropping slowly back, falling prey to Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth in quick success as he exited the top six.
By lap 18, Earnhardt had a lead of over 2s over the field - but no one was getting too excited just yet as there was a competition caution looming in two laps time, a routine precaution in the event when track conditions had changed significantly since the last time the drivers had been out. And sure enough, a minute later the yellow flags were indeed out.
It turned out that Kyle Busch had beaten the scheduled caution to the punch by slapping the #18 into the wall at turn 1 on lap 19. That would send him crawling into the garage for extended repairs, and while he was able to rejoin later on he would end up classified in 33rd place - a possibly mortal blow for his already slender hopes of making the post-regular season Chase play-offs for the Sprint Cup championship.
"We just blew out the rear brake rotors, disintegrated it and then blew out the rear caliper after that," explained Busch as he waited for the #18 to be patched together. "Getting down into turn 1 with a three-wheel brake is about the worst situation you can have as a race car driver. I kept trying to pump it to keep feeding pressure to the rest of the three wheels to keep it off the fence, but just couldn't do it."
Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin opted not to pit under the caution and led the restart ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth, but they were quickly dismissed as Keselowski - another non-stopper - led the charge to the front. Earnhardt stayed right with him and was well placed to pick up the lead again on lap 32 when Keselowski finally came on to pit road for his own deferred stop.
That left Earnhardt and Kenseth in charge of proceedings, now ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne. With Jeff Gordon not far behind despite having started from 27th place on the grid after a disappointing qualifying, that put all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top ten - and on lap 39 one Hendrick car (Earnhardt) yielded the lead to another (Johnson.)