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Gordon wins rain-shortened NASCAR race at Pocono

Jun 11, 2007 - 1:48 AM LONG POND, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- Jeff Gordon has not needed much help winning NASCAR races over his illustrious career. He received an unexpected boost from Mother Nature on Sunday.

Gordon benefited from torrential rainfall at Pocono Raceway to win Sunday's Nextel Cup Pocono 500.

It was the fourth victory this season and 81st career for Gordon, who climbed within two wins of tying Cale Yarborough for fifth place on the all-time list.

"What a great way to finish this day out," said Gordon, who averaged 135.608 miles per hour in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and won $238.286. "I didn't think we weren't even going to get on the track. Then to have it come down to great team strategy, you win some this way and you lose some this way."

Despite battling brake issues throughout Sunday's race, Gordon raced past Carl Edwards' Ford Fusion to take the lead for good on lap 100.

Gordon maintained his lead over Ryan Newman over the next four laps when the yellow flag waved for rain on lap 104. The red flag waved three laps later and after a 45-minute delay, Gordon officially was awarded the win.

"We have had some drama on our wins this year," said Gordon, who won under caution at Talladega one week after winning a fierce battle with Tony Stewart to capture the checkered flag at Phoenix. "When we do it, it is in dramatic fashion."

"We've just got to keep putting ourselves in position to win," Newman said. "We were half-a-lap away from winning today. We had a really good car - it was a lot faster than Gordon's at that point. We've won this way and we've lost this way. I won my first race this way, so I can't complain about any part of it."

The victory certainly did not come easily for Gordon, who was running hard to stave off Newman after the race went official at lap 101 - one lap after the halfway point. Gordon even voiced his concern to his team over his radio, telling crew chief Steve Letarte that he essentially had worn out his tires to stay in front of Newman.

But Letarte, who orchestrated perfect pit strategy throughout the day, told Gordon that the rain would come shortly and advised the four-time series champion to stay out on the track.

"You need to talk to Steve Letarte about that call, he was the one that made it," Gordon said. "He was looking at this thing being close to a 100-lap race, which was really smart. He looked at the radar and knew the rain was coming any time.

"We weren't getting any farther up than ninth with the brake issues, so it was a risk worth taking. (Letarte) is the one that won this race today, not me. We had a great race car, but without track position and a great risky call like that, we wouldn't be here. I can't believe we just won this thing."

Letarte admitted that he changed his strategy during the race, anticipating the inclement weather thanks to spotter Shannon McGlamery.

"Our strategy changed," Letarte said. "We had a decent car, but it is so hard to pass here and everybody gets so spread out. Shannon called it - he saw some rain clouds coming and told me to go check the radar. We are just shooting for wins. That is the goal here."

With the win, Gordon built himself a whopping 242-point cushion in the Nextel Cup series standings.

"That is 10 more points for the Chase," Letarte said. "To get as many bonus points as we can for the Chase - we just want to make this Chase and have as many bonus points as possible when we get there.

"When it rains, it pours. We have had years when we couldn't do anything right and some years you can't do anything wrong. You just have to ride the highs when they come, and that is what we are trying to do."

Newman finished second from the pole in a Dodge Charger, followed by the Chevrolets of Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and Stewart. Defending race winner Denny Hamlin, who also won the July race at this track last year, ran sixth in a Chevy.

"I've got mixed emotions," said Truex, who captured his first career victory at Dover. "I'd be happy to go home with a third-place finish. But I think at the same time, at the end there we were catching (Newman), and (Gordon) was coming back to both of us pretty quick. Who knows what might have been and what could be later, but either way I'll be happy."

It was another bittersweet finish to a promising day for Newman, who has failed to capture a checkered flag this season despite starting from the pole four times, including each of the last three races.

Newman, who also finished second last Monday at Dover, has not visited Victory Lane since September 2005 at New Hampshire, a drought of 59 consecutive races.

"Unfortunately, the rain came on the wrong lap," Newman said. "I'm not mad by any means. I won my first race because it rained out and got too dark. I guess it's only right I lose one that way at some point."

The 107-lap event at the 2 1/2-mile tri-oval featured 15 lead changes among eight drivers and included four caution periods totaling 10 laps. The start of the race was delayed nearly three hours by rain.

Matt Kenseth ran ninth in a Ford and climbed to second in the standings, five points ahead of Hamlin. Jimmie Johnson began the day second in the standings but fell to fourth after struggling to 42nd place in a Chevy.

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