After bad luck had plagued Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team throughout the 2012 season to this point, their luck turned on Sunday in the Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
After rain delayed the start of the race by nearly an hour and a half, it was eventually shortened by rain and called official by NASCAR on lap 98 of the scheduled 160-lap distance, just after Gordon inherited the lead when cars in front of him got caught up in an incident to bring out the final caution of the race.
"The way our year has gone, we'll definitely take it," Gordon said."I'd never seen the sea part like that."
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, limped his No. 5 Chevrolet around the track on a flat tire under caution, determined to stay out because crew chief Kenny Francis told him that rain was coming. As a result, Kahne took runner-up honors.
The Hendrick organization dominated much of the race, but not with Gordon and Kahne. Instead, HMS drivers Jimmie Johnson, in the No. 48 Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 Chevy, took command for much of the event.
After the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Juan Montoya and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin swapped the lead several times in the opening laps, Earnhardt made his way from his eighth starting spot to the lead by lap 15.
He began to pull away from the field, but a transmission issue sent him to the garage for repairs on lap 50. Earnhardt wound up spending 18 laps in the garage while the transmission was replaced.
"It started missing some shifts, and then going through the tunnel (turn) it broke fourth," Earnhardt said. "Then, trying to go back into third, it broke."
That's when Johnson took over. He led much of the rest of the way, except when the field cycled through green flag pit stops. Matt Kenseth, in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, was his closest pursuer throughout the remaining laps.
The yellow flag bunched up the field on lap 86 when the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch made hard contact with the wall. When the race went back to green, with Johnson and Kenseth restarting on the front row, Johnson's No. 48 got loose and Kenseth wound up hitting the wall, collecting Hamlin in the process.
The incident handed the lead over to Gordon and the second spot to Kahne.
"We knew that restart was going to be key," Gordon's crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
Heavy rain and a severe thunderstorm warning brought out the checkered flag as the field made its way around the track under caution on lap 98, giving Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish.
"The Hendrick Motorsports cars were really fast," Kahne said.
Kahne's day wasn't exactly incident-free. He lost positions and time on pit road on two occasions in the race.
"After that (issues on pit road), we were able to get back through," Kahne said. "We were getting off the corners really well."
Mark Martin finished third in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, Brad Keselowski was fourth in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge, and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
NOTES: Earnhardt's troubles ended his claim of being the only driver to have completed every lap this season . . . Gordon's win was the 86th of his Sprint Cup career and his sixth at Pocono. He's the all-time wins leader at the track. . . Gordon moved into the provisional second wild card spot for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He is tied in points, season wins, second-place finishes, third-place finishes and fourth-place finishes with Ryan Newman, but Gordon has more fifth-place finishes . . . Earnhardt maintained his points lead, despite his transmission trouble, but his lead shrunk to five points over second-place Kenseth.