Gordon gets second win of the season at Pocono

Victory and a new record for Jeff Gordon.
Credit: Karel Zubris for Skirts and Scuffs
After a promising start to his season was nearly derailed by inconsistent finishes, Jeff Gordon ran away with a nearly 3-second lead over Kurt Busch to win the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, his second win of 2011.

The victory puts the four-time Sprint Cup champion at a career milestone: with his 84th victory, he stands tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for third-best in all-time Sprint Cup Series wins.

On Sunday, Gordon and the No. 24 team were strong all day, running most of the day in the top 5. Even the team’s performance on pit road was spot on, as the No. 24 crew was the fifth fastest in pit road times.

Despite a win earlier this season at Phoenix, the No. 24 has had inconsistent racecars, gotten caught up in wrecks or had fuel strategy work against them. But Gordon was glad to see the team's work in righting their season was paying off.

“Today, to see it all come together: to have a fast racecar, great pit stops, calling the race right, good restarts … I’m so caught up in that, I’m so excited,” he said. Gordon credited crew chief Alan Gustafson and the team’s engineers for the beneficial changes to their intermediate program.

Gustafson said, “It’s a really complete day for our race team and we’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”

Gordon took the lead for the first time in the 5-Hour Energy 500 at lap 140. After the race’s fourth restart on lap 156, Gordon passed Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead, much to delight of the crowd at Pocono, who erupted in cheers.

It wasn’t long before Gordon and Busch pulled away from the competition. The two pitted together on lap 178 in what would be the race’s final pit stop. Happy with the car in clean air, the No. 24 team only made a minor change, a chassis adjustment and fuel, and won the race off pit road. Within five laps Gordon had passed Brad Keselowski for second and Landon Cassill for the lead. From then on, Gordon never looked back.

With victories at Phoenix and Pocono, this season marks the first since 2007 where Gordon has claimed multiple race wins. The victory also moves up Gordon to 11th in points. Not only is Gordon closer to breaking the top 10, but his two wins practically guarantee him a wildcard spot in the Chase.
Victory is ever better with your family there to celebrate with you.
Credit: Karel Zubris for Skirts and Scuffs
Sunday’s win was also Gordon’s fifth victory at the 2.5-mile superspeedway nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle.” Gordon now matches Bill Elliott for most wins at the Long Pond track.

Rounding out the top 10 were Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Shifting gears adds variable to team strategies
NASCAR’s decision to implement a new gear rule gave the drivers the ability to downshift for the first time since 2005. The shifting added another layer to the mix of fuel-tire strategies.

“Shifting was more important for survival in today’s race,” race winner Jeff Gordon said, adding for the first 50 laps or so he was “more conservative than any other driver out there.”

This strategy contrasted with that of his teammates, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who shifted all over the track in order to gain speed early on. But the shifting came with a cost: it used up more fuel. Johnson may have even had a fuel issue early on due to the tactic.

But some drivers shifted less and still maintained a dizzying pace, like Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya, who combined led 114 laps. For nearly three-fourths of the race, Hamlin, who led 76 laps himself, was the dominant car and seemed to have the 5-Hour Energy 500 in the bag. But the No. 11 dropped off in the final quarter, and a flat tire after a pit stop during the final caution doomed Hamlin to a 19th-place finish.

No. 18 car fails post-race inspection
After a third-place finish, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 car failed post-race inspection at Pocono Raceway. The left front was 1/16th too low outside the range set by NASCAR, crew chief Dave Rogers said.

“It’s disappointing,” Rogers said. “It’s the last thing I expected after the race today.”

He explained after struggling this weekend, the team changed the front shocks and springs package to what they had used at last year’s spring race at Pocono. Though the package had passed inspection last year, it could have been “mileaged out.” Rogers also said the left-front fender had sustained “a lot of damage” after Busch “hit the fence on the right side a little bit,” but noted he wasn’t trying to make excuses.

NASCAR will take the No. 18 back to its research and development center in Concord, N.C., for further inspection. Any possible penalties will be announced Tuesday.

Bad day for the No. 99
Points leader Carl Edwards’ 40-point buffer over Jimmie Johnson was trimmed to just 6 points after the No. 99 had a broken valve and had to head to the garage on lap 58. Edwards was running third at the time.

It was a rare parts failure for the powerful FR9 engine. But Edwards didn’t think the broken valve could be attributed to shifting.

“I was trying really hard to be easy on the engine and only shifting in (turns) 1 and 2 and I was short-shifting into fourth, I didn’t want to over rev it,” Edwards said.

“Every once in a while you are going to have a failure and we have been running well enough that hopefully we can absorb the failure."

The No. 99 team worked on the car and Edwards was able to take back it out for the race's final lap.
Gordon gets second win of the season at Pocono Gordon gets second win of the season at Pocono Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Sunday, June 12, 2011 Rating: 5