Jeff Gordon had speed, not strategy
Jeff Gordon looked like he had a good shot at making it two consecutive wins Sunday, but he and his No. 24 team ended up with the wrong pit strategy and finished sixth.
Gordon led a race-high 63 laps, but he stayed out under a caution with 39 laps remaining while others, including eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., went to pit road. Several of those drivers then pitted within the next 10 laps to get enough fuel to get to the finish.
“We had the dominant car, but you had to have track position. There at the end we didn’t have it,” Gordon said.
“With Dale getting out in front of us there through that pit sequence, there was nothing we could do. He was really good. Whoever got out front, him or me, was going to win this race.”
Bowyer welcomes good finish: Clint Bowyer was in the mix for the win as Sunday’s race wound down and that was good news for him. His fourth-place finish is his second-best of the season. He finished third at Talladega, Ala.
“We had a good car all weekend long and we unloaded good. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Bowyer said.
“Obviously there’s some things that we need to work on – some areas that we need to work on to get a top-five on a track like this with these long straightaways and everything.”
Hamlin has solid weekend: Sunday’s race was the first of what could be six that Denny Hamlin will run without the services of crew chief Darian Grubb. Grubb was suspended six races by NASCAR, but Joe Gibbs Racing is appealing the penalty.
Mike Wheeler, a team engineer, is serving as interim crew chief and Hamlin said he did a good job at Pocono (Pa.).
“He called the race nice. There was good communication and we were on the same strategy as far as what I was thinking and what he was thinking, so that was good,” Hamlin said.
Kyle Busch takes early exit: Kyle Busch started seventh and appeared to have a car capable of challenging for the win, but he was forced to the garage after 23 laps with engine problems. He ended up 42nd.
“The car in practice was strong. It felt good and we were biding our time here early,” Busch said. “Something in between the frame rails just doesn’t want to cooperate correctly.”
Observations• Earnhardt fans have been waiting patiently for their favorite driver to win his first Sprint Cup Series championship. There have been several seasons when it seemed possible only to end in disappointment. With five races remaining before the Chase will begin, Earnhardt looks in better position than ever to accomplish that goal. He is working with likely the best team he has had, he’s performing at his best and seems more at ease with his position in the sport. Winning the championship won’t be easy, but there is no reason Earnhardt should not be considered a serious contender.
• Before the race, Earnhardt met with Chris Blakeney as part of a visit set up by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Earnhardt told Blakeney if he won the race, Blakeney could join the No. 88 team in Victory Lane. Earnhardt kept his promise and also brought Blakeney with him to the winner’s news conference, even insisting the young man get his own name plate. If anyone wonders why Earnhardt continually wins the most popular driver award, that is plenty of evidence right there.
• Gordon marked two more milestones during Sunday’s race – he has led more than 24,000 laps during his Cup series career, including more than 1,000 at Pocono.
Five key moments
1. Joey Logano jumps to a big lead and is out front for the first 30 laps.
2. Kevin Harvick is penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road on Lap 97 and gets shuffled to the rear of the field.
3. A 13-car wreck on Lap 117 collects several contenders, including Harvick, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. powers around Greg Biffle, who is trying to save fuel, and takes the lead for the first time on Lap 147.
5. On a restart on Lap 158, Harvick, running second, tries to run down Earnhardt but can’t complete a pass before Earnhardt wins.