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Jeff Gordon lucks into stormy Pocono win

Jeff Gordon recovered from a poor qualifying and took advantage of a team mate's misfortune to take the lead just before a massive storm forced the race to be red flagged early.
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.)




Related Pictures

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NASCAR fans pack to the Pocono grandstands as Matt Kenseth drives the #17 Zest Ford during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 5, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Crew members work on the #18 M&M`s Toyota, driven by Kyle Busch, after he was involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 5, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 5, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 30, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS celebrates his 4th victory of the season with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, and his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, after winning Sunday, October 26, 2014 the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This is the 10th anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash which killed 10 in Martinsville. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to a second place finish and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Both Gordon and Newman are in the The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season with his crew Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, races to his 4th win of the season with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishing second Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. Gordon now leads the standings in the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, applies the winners decal in Victory Lane after his victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald`s Chevrolet, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet, is spun by Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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