Gordon Snares Pocono Win With Pit Strategy

LONG POND, Pa. ? With Sunday?s Pocono 500 red-flagged for rain after 106 laps, Jeff Gordon was looking at clouds more intently than he ever had.

Brilliant pit strategy propelled the NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader to his fourth victory of the season and 79th of his career after the clouds opened up and the event at Pocono Raceway was called at 7:35 p.m. ET, six laps past the halfway point.

The red-flag period lasted 34 minutes, as track crews at the 2.5-mile speedway attempted in vain to dry the asphalt in time to restart the race before darkness fell.

?I?ve never looked at clouds as hard as I am now, trying to figure out what they?re going to do,? Gordon said during the stoppage, hoping for more rain.

For the second straight race, polesitter Ryan Newman took second. Newman was on the verge of passing Gordon on Lap 104 when NASCAR called the final caution, then stopped the race two laps later.

Martin Truex Jr., last week?s race winner at Dover, was third, followed by Casey Mears and Tony Stewart. Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.

Gordon fought brake problems all afternoon and could have run only eight more green-flag laps before pitting for fuel.

?We had a great car,? he said. ?We just needed track position.?

Crew chief Steve Letarte took care of that problem by keeping Gordon on the track when the seven cars ahead of him in the running order came to the pits for fuel and/or tires on Lap 65.

Gordon and Mears, who also stayed out on Lap 65 under a caution for debris in Turn 3, had to pit for tires and fuel on Lap 82, and with rain approaching from the northeast, Gordon ran hard to the halfway point and rocketed back to the front as the cars ahead of him were forced to refuel.

When Gordon pitted from the lead on Lap 82, polesitter Ryan Newman assumed the point, but with rain starting to sprinkle the Tunnel Turn, Newman had to pit for gas on Lap 95. Carl Edwards inherited the lead through the cycle of pit stops but had stop for fuel on Lap 98, handing Gordon the top spot.

As the race reached Lap 100, the rain began to fall in earnest. ?It?s raining on the back like a mother ? rain, rain, rain,? Gordon?s teammate Jimmie Johnson radioed to his crew on Lap 103.

One lap later NASCAR slowed the race, after Newman had erased a deficit of more than two seconds and powered his No. 12 Dodge beside Gordon?s No. 24 Chevrolet moments before the caution flag flew on Lap 104.

?Yes, we were fortunate, lucky ? whatever you want to call it ? that the rain came when it did,? Gordon said. ?Steve made a gutsy, great call based on the radar. He was watching the radar all day. It was risky, but it really worked out pretty awesome.

?On the one side, I feel guilty for taking this win. On the other side, Steve made a great call, and everyone else had the opportunity to make the same call.?

Newman had no ill feelings about NASCAR?s timing in calling the race.

?It rained on me the lap before that, and when I came around the next time, it rained even harder,? Newman said. ?It?s all about safety. Obviously, we were four feet short, but there was no controversy.?

Truex felt he could have won the race if it had stayed under green for another 10 minutes or so.

?I think with five or 10 more laps, we had a shot at the win,? said Truex, who notched his first Cup victory in last Monday?s rain-delayed race at Dover. ?I was catching Newman. Them guys (Gordon?s team), they tried to get an advantage, and they got lucky. That?s just the way it is.?

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