LONG POND, Pa. — The GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday came down to a two-lap battle between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon. Kahne came out on top for his second win of the year, while Gordon was forced to settle for second.
“It’s funny how our emotions go up and down in this sport,” Gordon said. “Before the race, if you told me that I’d finish second, I’d say that was a great birthday gift. But when you’re leading and take the lead from Kasey the way we did, you know, on that restart, I thought we had him.
“He was better than us, but I thought getting out in front, I could hold him off. I got a perfect restart that last one and probably jumped him a little bit and I moved up front of him and it looked like I needed to block the inside. I tried to protect the inside, and he got on the outside and flat outdrove me through one. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get this win.”
The ninth and final caution of the race came out with five laps to go and resulted in a restart with two laps to go, with Gordon credited as the race leader and Kahne alongside on the front row in second.
Despite spinning his tires on the restart, Kahne was able to pull up beside Gordon when the race went back to green. The two teammates then waged a side-by-side battle, until Kahne was able to pull out front and hold Gordon off on the last lap to claim the win.
Chevrolet swept the top five in the finishing order, with Kurt Busch taking third, Ryan Newman fourth, and a third Hendrick Motorsports driver — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — in fifth.
“I was just right there in the mix, you know,” Busch said. “On restarts, I felt like we gained spots each time.”
The one other Hendrick Motorsports driver, Jimmie Johnson, looked to be the class of the field in the first half of the 160-lap race. Pit strategies varied early on with the high number of cautions and the ability to pit under green and remain on the lead lap.
But even with the varied strategies, Johnson always seemed to find his way back up front.
That all changed, though, near the halfway point of the race when a tire issue resulted in damage to Johnson’s No. 48. Throughout the remainder of the race, Johnson made repeated pit stops for repairs, but was never able to climb back into contention.
“I really felt like we had a shot to win,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately blew a tire off of turn one and ended those hopes there. We worked on the car and got it better. Then, I hit the wall so hard that it knocked a spark plug wire off the spark plug.”
That’s when Kahne took over.
After Johnson’s problems, Kahne assumed the lead, with reigning series champion Brad Keselowski in second. Keselowski got by Kahne on a restart, but Kahne quickly retook the lead and pulled away.
Most drivers got back on similar pit strategies when the fifth caution of the race came out with about 65 laps to go. Kahne, along with several others, took only two tires, and the eventual race winner got off pit road first.
Martin Truex Jr. restarted in the lead, though, after being the only driver to stay out. Meanwhile, Keselowski, who was previously up front with Kahne, took on four tires and restarted 15th.
Truex gave up the lead when the yellow flag waved again just a few laps later, handing the lead back over to Kahne. As Kahne pulled out to a lead of more than five seconds, Keselowski had problems working his way back up toward the front.
“I am more frustrated than tired,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know how much those restarts affected us. We caught that one yellow at the worst possible time with about 50 or 60 to go and pitted for four, and we were still going to be OK, but then we caught another yellow, which killed our strategy. It put us behind and we couldn’t recover. We were close to the 5 and 24, but they were probably a tad faster.”
Drivers pitted for the last time with about 30 laps to go. With quick stops, Kahne was the leader and Earnhardt second after the cycle completed. While others took four tires, Keselowski took only two tires this time around to make up some of the positions he lost on his previous stop.
Gordon also wound up in the top five after the cycle, and moved by Earnhardt to take second with 11 laps remaining. Right after Gordon forged into second place, the yellow flag waved again.
“I about gave it away when Jeff got by me,” Kahne said. “And then I spun the tires a little bit and he got a great jump and Kurt pushed me all the way to turn one, which really helped. And then I had one opportunity. It was either to go for it and make it work, or not. And as good as our car was, our Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, all day long, I thought we could make that work on the outside. I just needed to clear him. And when we got to turn two, I was able to do that.”
Gordon then took the lead on the restart that followed and was still up front at the final yellow flag. During that time, Earnhardt dropped back, losing spots to Busch and Newman.
Keselowski finished sixth, followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle.
NOTES: Kahne’s win was Hendrick Motorsports’ third-straight win at Pocono with three different drivers. Johnson won in June and Gordon won the August race last year. … Both Gordon and Kurt Busch received top-five finishes as birthday gifts. Both celebrated birthdays on Sunday. … Gordon is the all-time wins leader at Pocono with six. … Cautions in Sunday’s race matched the number of yellow flags in the last two Pocono races, combined — nine (last August’s race with three cautions was rained-shortened).