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Jeff Gordon lucks into stormy Pocono win

Green flag pit stops were packed into laps 47-49, with Kurt Busch alone in staying out a few laps longer before handing the lead back to Johnson on lap 53, who had a good 3s lead over the off-sync Keselowski in second. Keselowski found himself easy meat for Matt Kenseth, the #2 losing second place to the #17 on lap 55 while Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle watched on from behind. When Keselowski came in for his pit stop it bumped Jeff Gordon into the top six.

That left just the one Hendrick car unaccounted for: unfortunately for fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr., the #88 was to be found in the garage with a transmission problem that would dump him 19 laps off the lead.

"We don't have third or fourth gear, so we're going to have to change the transmission," he said as his pit crew sprang into action. "We put it in yesterday and during qualifying it was fine and when we restarted it was kind of aggressive.

Then a bit of a vibration and the car was just really out of time and it just kind of started missing some shifts and difficult to get in gear and things like that and then finally in third and fourth coming out of the tunnel, it didn't didn't have any fourth," he continued. "And then I went to third and I didn't have third. We had a good run going ... But it was one of those things. I'm sorry for all the guys in the shop."

As the midpoint of the race approached, the issue of the weather started to dominate. All the weather radar data was showing a rapidly advancing storm system bearing down on Pocono, so it was a matter of when - not if - the weather was curtailed by rain. If it happened before lap 80 then the race would have to resume at some point - even if that meant coming back on Monday. But if it happened after lap 80 then the race would be 'official' and a red flag would mean the result being declared without requiring a restart.

With this in mind, it was no surprise when the cars streamed for their green flag pit stops just before the midway point. As the crossed flags declaring the race had met its minimum distance requirement were shown to the leaders, it was Jimmie Johnson back out in front of Matt Kenseth followed by Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle. The rest of the top ten was comprised of Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr.

Keselowski's off-sync strategy put him at most risk of running dry before the race was stopped, but even Jimmie Johnson was being warned to save fuel to make sure that they wouldn't be forced back onto pit lane at a crucial moment.

Having run caution-free for 65 laps, the yellows were back out on lap 87 when Kurt Busch managed to follow his brother into the wall, this time slightly further along the triangular circuit at turn 2. With rain looking so imminent there were few takers for pit road, although Mark Martin was one of just nine cars to come in for a quick stop in the hope that - if the rain held off longer than expected - it might leave him in the lead if everyone else had to pit again.

Realistically, however, the next restart was likely to be the crucial one, and the man to beat was Jimmie Johnson. As long as he pulled away smoothly, he looked set to have this race in the bag after leading 44 laps, well over twice as many as anyone else. Did anyone have it in them to take the fight to the #48?

It turned out that Johnson's worst enemy at the restart was his own car: he got loose in turn 1 and slammed into Matt Kenseth who was punted into the outside wall.




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)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS who finished in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a fifth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Elliott takes over the #24 car from retired driver Jeff Gordon.  (Photo by Ashley R Dickerson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, races to a fourth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Cleary for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 as Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage (L) and John Godwin of Duck Commander (R) look on at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas (Photo Credit: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s 75th Anniversary Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s 75th Anniversary Toyota, leads Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

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