The way qualifying had played out at Pocono Raceway, I felt Sunday was going to bring us some interesting storylines.
I also believed we were going to have some comers and goers. And that’s how it all played out. In fact, if you look at our top-five finishers from Sunday, three of those drivers started outside the top 25.
Race winner Jeff Gordon finished 27th. Fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski started 31st. Tony Stewart, who finished fifth, started 28th.
Racing the weather was the one thing that was not a surprise to anyone. We had already had the 1-1/2-hour rain delay before the race started, and despite the blue skies that followed, everyone knew another system was on its way.
Hendrick Motorsports had an unbelievable weekend at Pocono. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated the race. Unfortunately, neither one went to Victory Lane when the rains returned. Dale Jr. was hit with a transmission problem, while Jimmie was involved in a spin on that last wild restart.
Hendrick’s other two drivers had a better day of it when the skies opened up again and rained out the rest of the race. Jeff Gordon finally got his first win of the season plus he jumped up into one of the wild-card spots, replacing Kyle Busch who continues to struggle. Kasey Kahne, who already is in position for the other wild-card spot, finished second.
So Hendrick Motorsports is red hot. The organization has won seven of the past 11 points races, plus the Sprint All-Star Race. That sleeping giant definitely is awake and alert. The group has served notice that despite a lackluster 2011, by its standards, it’s primed to take back control of the 2012 championship.
As I mentioned, that last restart was pretty wild. Jimmie Johnson didn’t know it at the time, but when they went back to racing he had a right rear tire going down. That’s what caused him to wash up the racetrack, get loose and get into Matt Kenseth.
As stated previously, Jeff Gordon started 27th, but he had one heck of a strong race car. I think it was by Lap 65 that he had driven his way up to the top five. You also saw him very aggressive on that last wild restart. Jeff is usually pretty conservative, but you saw a man who at the time was outside the 2012 Chase looking in and got up on that wheel to take advantage of the situation in front of him.
What a difference a week makes. Last week, all the talk was about how Jeff was going to miss the Chase. Now, with five races left before the field is set, Jeff is back in the picture in a big way.
He will be the first one to admit he and his team have had a very freaky season. Those 14 races saw anything and everything bad happen to that race team. But very quietly, things began to turn in Gordon’s favor.
If you look at his past seven races, his worst finish was 12th at Daytona in early July. Including the win Sunday, of those seven races, Jeff has had six top-six finishes. With his win and the reversal of his Chase fortune, Jeff has given motivation to other drivers who are right there on the edge of making or not making this year’s Chase.
Carl Edwards comes to mind as the No. 1 example of someone who still has Chase hopes. Carl has not had a top-five finish since the race at Fontana back in March. He finished seventh Sunday at Pocono, and that’s only his second top-10 finish since May in Charlotte. That said, you know he and his team have to be saying to themselves, “By, golly, if Jeff Gordon can do it, then we can, too.”
As I said last week, for the drivers just on the edge of the Chase, racing for points is over. That tactic does them zero good. While I don’t want to downplay points racing, drivers still have to win it to be in it. Solid finishes are still key to those who are tight in the points such as Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman, who are mathematically tied. However, for guys like Carl, solid finishes do him no good if he continues to have no wins.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch each has a win, but they have really fallen off the pace as of late.
Solid finishes really do them no good, either. They need to go out in these next five races and get that all-crucial second win of the season. The clock’s ticking — and fast. With only five races to go, the magic number of wins for some of these drivers is two.
After the race, a fan was killed and nine were injured by lightning in the parking lot. Our prayers go out to those victims and their family and friends will be in our prayers.