June 10, 2007
LONG POND, Pa.(cbssportsline.com/AP) -- This may be the surest sign yet that everything is falling into place this season for Jeff Gordon: Even the dark clouds hovering above him are bringing him luck.
With his brakes failing and Ryan Newman nipping at the No. 24's bumper, Gordon was begging for the skies to open and let that rain start coming and not stop until he was in Victory Lane.
"It's raining! It's raining! Throw the caution!" he said later, recalling the moment.
The caution came, the race was red flagged and Gordon showed again that nothing will slow him down.
Gordon used the rain and a smart call by crew chief Steve Letarte to win the rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday night and give the points leader his fourth win this season.
"We're having a heck of a year," Gordon said. "We're having so much fun going to the race track. Things are going our way."
Not quite like Sunday.
The race was red flagged after 106 laps of the scheduled 200-lap, 500-mile race. With darkness falling, the cars went back to pit road and never came back after a final attempt to dry the track. The race had been delayed three hours by rain, starting close to the time the race usually ends.
With dark clouds closing in and Gordon's brakes on the fritz, crew chief Steve Letarte called the car into the pits for an early service call. Gordon relinquished the lead on the stop, but Letarte figured his driver would cycle back to the front after everyone else made their scheduled stops.
And he assumed it would start raining while Gordon was leading. It was a gamble, because the earlier pit stop had put Gordon off sequence with the rest of the field. If it didn't rain quickly, he'd have to pit much earlier than everyone else and would fall deep into the field after the stop.
But if it did rain in that short window, they'd be out front and inherit the win when the race was called.
"That was risky," Gordon said. "He knew exactly how he was going to play it out."
It all played out perfectly, as the sky opened seconds before Newman closed in on Gordon and NASCAR stopped the race. They still had to wait about 35 minutes for NASCAR to call the event, handing Gordon his fourth win at Pocono and first since 1998.
"Steve made a gutsy, great call based on looking at the radar," Gordon said.
Hendrick Motorsports recorded its 10th win in the last 12 Nextel Cup races.
"A lot of what people see is luck," Letarte said. "Today with the weather, it was a lot of luck."
Newman's late charge put him second, extending his miserable run of having no wins to show for all his poles. The race pole sitter seemed poised to catch Gordon right before the caution came out and instead stretched his winless drought to 59 races.
Newman has eight poles -- including four this year -- since his last win in September 2005. He finished second last week at Dover.
"I'm not mad by any means," Newman said. "I won my first race because it rained out and got too dark. I guess it's only right I lose one that way at some point."
Drivers had to wait again after last week's race at Dover was pushed back a day because of rain. The Pocono 500 became a race to the 101st lap to make it official, leading to some hard and frantic racing early on a track more known for some leisurely stretches in the first half.
Martin Truex Jr. was third and Casey Mears fourth in the first Nextel Cup race since former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. died on Monday. A moment of silence was held before the green flag dropped and a prayer was said at the end of the driver's meeting to "remember the France family and continue to comfort them."
"Bill and his entire family did so much for the sport," Gordon said. "You know, we wouldn't be here with these sponsors all over the cars and the fans in the stands and be this excited about pit strategy wins if this sport wasn't as popular as it is. And that would never be possible without Bill France Jr., without Bill France Sr. and the France family."
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin took fifth and sixth. Hamlin swept both races on the 2.5-mile triangle track last season and failed in his bid to become only the third driver to win three straight here.
Kurt Busch, docked 100 points for his pit road run-in with Stewart at Dover, was 16th.
Jimmie Johnson, who swept Pocono in 2004, blew his left front tire 91 laps into the race causing his No. 48 Chevrolet to spark and smoke into pit road. Johnson took his car to the garage and finished 42nd, dropping from second to fourth in the points standings.
Gordon won for the fourth time in the last seven races to go along with Victory Lane celebrations at Phoenix, Talladega and Darlington.
"The 24 snookered all of us pretty bad," Truex said. "I think five or 10 more laps and we had a shot at the win."
Gordon couldn't ask for a better year on or off the track.
He overcame an overheating engine in early May to win at Darlington Raceway. And Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch are expecting their first child - a daughter - at the end of June.
This was the fourth time he won a rain-shortened race.
Rain or shine, Car of Tomorrow or the regular model. Gordon will take all the wins he can no matter how they come.
"It was bizarre for many reasons," he said.
The Associated Press News Service