The GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., on Sunday turned into a two-lap sprint race between two teammates for the win. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne came out on top to collect his second win of the season. Meanwhile, HMS teammate Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet had to settle for second.
“We had a really fast car,” Kahne said in victory lane. “(Crew chief) Kenny (Francis) called a great race.”
After tasting victory, second just wasn’t as satisfactory for Gordon.
“Its 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 No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch finished third, the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman was fourth, and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five to give Chevrolet a top-five sweep and Hendrick Motorsports three cars within the top-five of the finishing order.
“I was just right there in the mix, you know,” Busch said. “On restarts, I felt like we gained spots each time.”
Kahne dominated the second half of the race, but Gordon took the lead on a restart with eight laps remaining. The yellow flag waved again with five laps to go, and on the restart with two to go, Kahne spun his tires but was able to still reel Gordon in and get by him before the white flag. “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.”
The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson dominated the first half of the race. Pit strategies had somewhat of a road course feel early on with strategies varying widely and some teams seeming to prefer green-flag stops over yellow. As a result, several other drivers spent time up front in the early going, but Johnson always seemed to come out on top.
That changed, though, around the halfway point of the race when a tire issue resulted in heavy damage to the No. 48 and took Johnson out of 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.”
Kahne assumed the lead and the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford of Brad Keselowski followed to second. Keselowski got by Kahne on a restart, but Kahne quickly retook the lead and pulled away.
Most of the race front runners got back on the same pit sequence, heading down pit road during a caution with about 65 laps to go. Kahne, along with several others, took only two tires. He got off pit road first, but the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. restarted in the lead after being the only one to stay out. Keselowski restarted 15 after taking four tires.
Truex gave up the lead when the yellow flag waved again just a few laps later, handing the lead back over to Kahne. While 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 okay, 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.
Gordon also wound up in the top-five after the cycle, and moved by Earnhardt to take second with 11 laps remaining. Right after taking second, the yellow flag waved again. 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.
“Well, Jeff was getting great restarts, and he was fast once we got going. I was in a tough spot once I got behind, and I felt like I needed at least five laps to get back by him. We had a better car. The Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was better once we were out there,” Kahne said. “That final one, he beat me to turn one. Kurt Busch gave me a great push all the way down the front stretch, which helped a ton. Once we got there, I just had one shot. It was either make it stick on the outside or go home in second.”
Keselowski wound up sixth at the finish, increasing his track position by taking only two tires on his final stop and making up some of the ground he lost on his previous pit stop. Finishing seventh through 10th were the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Tony Stewart and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle.