Race Weekend Central

Jeff Gordon Claims 5th Pocono Victory in 2011 5-hour Energy 500

On a day with dreary skies, the end of the race saw a “rainbow” in the form of the “Rainbow Warrior” Jeff Gordon winning his 84th career race, placing him in a three-way tie for all-time Cup wins with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Gordon passed Landon Cassill with 19 laps to go and held off Kurt Busch by 2.965 seconds to capture his fifth career victory at Pocono.

“Oh my goodness. Just a lot of hard work has gone into this,” said an elated Gordon after the race. “We were embarrassed by the way we were running. When I came on board with Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and his crew, I knew that they were special and amazing. Phoenix came a little sooner than we thought, but I felt like we could do that this year.

“Then, we went on a streak where we just weren’t competitive. What it takes is a team that believes in you and you believe in them and you work together to get there. And that is what we did today. We just never gave up. Awesome racecar. Awesome pit stops. I have to thank DuPont, AARP Drive to End Hunger and Pepsi. Of course the fans, the fans are just amazing here. Welcome TNT TV. This is a great way to get started.”

Busch would lead the field to the green flag with a pole-worthy speed of 171.579 mph, sharing the front row with Paul Menard. Busch led briefly, but Denny Hamlin quickly took to the point when on lap 9, the first caution came out for debris. Nine laps later, a second caution for debris came out, which served as a scheduled competition yellow after rains fell on the racing surface Saturday (June 11).

Hamlin would lead 75 of the first 100 laps, with Juan Pablo Montoya taking the lead on lap 102 and holding it until the third caution of the day for debris came out at lap 112. Montoya inexplicably took two tires when everyone around him took four and he would quickly surrender the lead following the green flag to Busch.

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After green-flag stops, he resumed the race lead until the race’s fourth debris caution of the afternoon came out on lap 154. Following pit stops, it was Montoya briefly in the lead again after another two-tire stop, but Gordon took the lead at lap 160 and led until his scheduled stop at lap 177. Cassill led the next three circuits, hoping vainly for a caution that never came, but he was no match for Gordon, who passed him with 19 laps to go and cruised to the win with Busch having to settle for second place.

“It was a great run. The old boy Jeff Gordon had it in him today,” commended Busch. “We ran him strong, we ran him hard. I’m real proud of our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge today, our team, our teamwork. We were in a backup car, so we didn’t know what to expect, but we ran it as hard as we could. I shifted every lap. I overworked it, but it made it through the 500 miles. This Dodge was great for us today.”

Kyle Busch was third, with Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounding out the top five. Sixth through 10th were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

“Well, you know there weren’t a lot of cautions so you had to have the car right” Gordon reflected post-race. “Luckily we had it pretty close. We just made some little adjustments to keep the car up front. Great pit stops by my team. They were awesome. I just can’t thank them enough for that effort.”

Hamlin, who dominated much of the first half of the race before a flat tire dropped him back to a 19th-place finish, had this to say post-race: “We were just coasting there at the beginning and just nothing really went right. We struggled a little bit on pit road. We gave up about 10 seconds for the first green-flag stop to the [No.] 42 (Montoya) and he short pitted so that made it look even worse.

“We were just a little bit off on sequence. Those guys would gain a lot while we were out there on older tires. Through the day our car got a little bit tighter — we were still in contention. I felt like the front bump rubbers just gave up on us a little bit there at the end possibly. But then when we left pit road and had a flat tire — that is just not your day. When it did that, it sheared the tire and wrapped it around the housing and broke the brakes lines so I had no brakes — it was just a slew of problems there at the end.”

Gordon led three times for 39 circuits around the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped track with an average speed of 145.384 mph. There were four caution for 14 laps and 18 lead changes among 10 drivers. Next week, the Cup Series travels to Michigan International Speedway.


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