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Jeff Gordon scores a surprise Pocono win when a flat tire dooms Hamlin

  Jeff Gordon drops his window net and burns rubber in celebration (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   POCONO, Pa.
   Jeff Gordon, taking command down the stretch and never yielding, beat the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, to win Sunday's strangely undramatic and relatively uneventful Pocono 500, which went virtually incident-free, aside from a few debris cautions.

   Gordon, who turns 40 this year, has been up and down lately, winning at Phoenix but uncompetitive at other tracks. Now, though, things may finally be changing.
   "We were embarrassed by the way we were running," Gordon said.
   "We went on a streak where we just weren't competitive."
   Last week at Kansas, however, Gordon was back in the hunt. And here he just scored his 84th career victory, tying him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison on the all-time list. Only Richard Petty and David Pearson have won more major league NASCAR races.
   Denny Hamlin dominated the first half of the race, leading easily. But a flat tire dropped him deep in the field, and he couldn't recover, finishing 19th.
   "I'll put it in perspective, with a nod toward the great Mark Martin -- you can never tell when a win will be your last," Gordon said with a grin. "I've never been one to focus on age; when I was young I didn't want that to hold me back...and now that I'm the old guy I don't want that to hold me back either.
    "As I've gotten older I've gotten smarter about driving the car....but I've also become more conservative. Still, now I think I've got a good balance.
   "People might not look at Charlotte, for us, as part of this momentum, because of our finish, but we did. And last week solidified things. And now this. And we had a great road course test this week too, so we're excited about Sonoma (in two weeks)."


  Denny Hamlin had a flat left rear late in the race, after dominating the first half of the four-hour event (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  With NASCAR allowing teams to shift gears at Pocono Raceway once again, drivers had predicted a chaotic afternoon of action. However there was little of that, though some top drivers did have equipment failure.
   Tour leader Carl Edwards, who lost a lot of ground in the Sprint Cup standings, was the biggest loser, when his engine dropped a valve just 60 laps into the 200-lapper around this flat 2-1/2-mile track. Edwards came into the race with a 40-point lead but left the track just six points in front of Jimmie Johnson. Edwards' crew took the engine apart and rebuilt it, getting him back out eventually to finish one more lap and thus be officially running at the finish.
   Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman had some trouble too, McMurray and Stewart having transmission problems, and Newman also having problems.
  "That's one concern a lot of us had today, the engine," Kurt Busch said. "When the points leader has problems, everyone is champing at the bit.
  "Right now it's about consistency….but I'd like to break through with a win."
   And he almost did -- Kurt Busch had the second-best car most of the day, until a late round of green flag stops put Gordon out in front. It was the second straight week that Busch had the car to beat….and got beat.
   Busch is thus rebounding after a sluggish start to the season. "But I'm exhausted," Busch said. "Jeff and I had a real good racing going; it started when Jeff beat us out of the pits….and we just couldn't close the gap.
   "It was a genuine battle between us.
   "And it was an interesting day, with the shifting and fuel mileage. A lot to balance inside the car."

  NASCAR says Kyle Busch's left-front quarterpanel failed post-race inspection because it was "too low." Any penalties would likely come Tuesday. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Kyle, on the other hand, had to work to get up front. "We had a long way to come from, starting deep in the field," Kyle Busch said.
  "Kurt was so much faster than I was late in the race, so I just let him go. I just wanted to keep the tires under it and get a good finish."
   The race was run under warm but cloudy and threatening skies. And NASCAR called the crowd 90,000, which might have been optimistic.
   Early in the race Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who have had their moments lately, diced it up, with Harvick appearing the aggressor in the tit-for-tat. But Busch pulled away.
   "I'm not sure what was going on," Kyle said. "He seemed to be trying to make it difficult. But that's not my issue."
   Kyle Busch said he and crew chief Dave Rogers worked well throughout the weekend with teammates Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford. Last week Hamlin had complained that Busch's sideline jobs racing Nationwide and Trucks kept him from contributing as much in team meetings as the other Joe Gibbs guys would want.


   Alan Gustafson, new this season as Jeff Gordon's crew chief, is back on top of his game too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "I'm more excited about building momentum right now," Gordon said. "I'm excited to see the conversations I've had with Alan (Gustafson) about these types of tracks come true. Sometimes you do question things, wondering if you're just being a cheerleader.
   "The timing couldn't be better."
   Gordon the past few years has been overshadowed by teammate Jimmie Johnson. "You have to go out and show it, and when we were doing it, people were looking at us," Gordon said. "And we just have not put the numbers together.
   "But this year, we came into the season talking about things we were going to do. And we went to Phoenix and did it, and 'Oh, yeah!'
   "But then we fell off the cliff.
   "So days like this give us hope that they can start to fear us again."
   Gustafson points out that tracks this huge, 2-1/2 miles, are typically restrictor plate races. But this track is different, in many respects.
   "We were a little nervous, going back shifting, because we haven't done that in a while, and to win in this sport you have to have everything on the edge," Gustafson said.
   "This is a tough place to win at, and I think the shifting made survival more of a factor," Gordon went on. "So when it came to shifting today, I was more conservative. It wasn't that I was trying to be easier on the equipment, but it was just easier.
   "And then when we got up front and started racing with the leaders, I knew I had to start shifting more, to get those rpms up. It almost caught me a couple times....but I was never worried about our equipment."
    Gordon certainly is a legend now, even though he's still active. "But until you go through the valleys, you don't appreciate what you have," Gordon said.
    "In 1998 we won 13 races and there were times when I was thinking 'This is pretty easy.'
     "But then came 1999, and it slaps you."

                                                 Results of Sunday's Pocono 500 5-Hour Energy



  Kurt Busch has clearly turned the corner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




"Gustafson points out that

"Gustafson points out that tracks this huge - 2.5 miles - are typically restrictor plate races."

Therein lies what's wrong with the NON-restrictor plate races. With trap speeds over 200 and handling thus made worse, the cars have made passing far too hard and adding shifting makes it even worse. That these AREN'T restrictor plate races should tell you something.

the race sunday showed me

the race sunday showed me just how much power nascar has in controlling maybe not wins with cautions but how certain drivers can gain championship points and others lose points with cautions or for this race no cautions. last weeks race the greatest driver in nascar spun and nascar threw the yellow instantly and locked everyones position even jr's so he was able to pit under caution without losing a position and come back on track up front no harm no foul and finish 2nd no caution would have put him way back in the pack for sure. this week biffle running 12th spins but no caution he pits under green comes back on track and finishes 23rd. i bet money biffle wishes he got the same treatment as jr. he might have been able to gain some points by finishing in the top 10 but i know nascar don't work that way for fords but only hendricks chevys its been that way for years. we watch as fords dominate a race [three races ago] then nascar throws a caution for a coke can and a piece of paper just after they pit both times in that race and puts them in the back of the pack and put the hendricks cars up front. it never fails nascar protecting those chevys. jr has'nt made the chase since he went to hendricks i guess nascar is assuring he makes it this year

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