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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)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, and Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Cheez-It Ford, lead the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Cheez-It Ford, pits during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, celebrates winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael S. Duskin is honored on the car as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance program.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 LiftMaster Chevrolet, stands in the garage area with crew members during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, sits in his car prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Johnson’s car features Army 1st Lt. Robert L. Henderson II as part of the 600 Miles of Rememberance.  (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, stands on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. HM3 James R Layton is honored on the car as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance program. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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