LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon took advantage of an accident sparked by teammate Jimmie Johnson and a touch of timely rain at Pocono Raceway to win his first race of the season.
Gordon earned his 86th career victory Sunday, winning for the first time since September 2011 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to thrust himself into wild-card contention in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson inadvertently gave his Hendrick Motorsports teammate the help he needed. Johnson got loose off a restart and knocked Matt Kenseth into the wall. Kenseth slid down the track and took out Denny Hamlin. With an unexpected opening, Gordon zoomed to the lead in the No. 24 Chevrolet.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. The skies opened and cars were ordered off the track. The race was called moments later with 98 of the 160 scheduled laps completed.
Gordon had been hit by a string of bad breaks this season and knew he needed wins over the final six races before the Chase cutoff to have any shot at running for a fifth championship during the 10-race playoffs.
Gordon, who also won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2007, set the record for most career wins at Pocono with six.
Kasey Kahne was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart.
With the storms coming — spotters told their drivers the heavy rain was coming — Johnson was in prime position to follow last week’s win in Indy with another trip to Victory Lane. Something, though, went wrong with Johnson’s car and he made contact with Kenseth. Johnson dropped back but suffered no real damage. Kenseth touched the wall and slid down the track. Hamlin had nowhere to go except right into the side of the No. 17.
Hamlin was taken to the infield care center and complained of discomfort around his abdomen but was released.
Gordon, who was sixth in the restart necessitated by Kurt Busch’s wreck, took off and took the lead.
Then the downpour came. The scheduled 400-mile race had already been postponed about two hours because of rain.
“I’ve never seen the seas part like that before,” Gordon said.
While Kahne and Gordon had a great race for Hendrick, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had ones to forget.
Earnhardt was lucky to maintain his overall points lead after he was forced to the garage on lap 51 because of a busted transmission. He later returned to the track and finished 32nd.