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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)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the series championship and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #18 ARRIS Toyota, lead the field on the first lap of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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