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Gordon uses risky call to win rain-shortened race at Pocono
NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon (24) passes Kasey Kahne during the NASCAR Pocono 500 at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., Sunday, June 10, 2007. Gordon went on to win the rain-delayed, rain-shortened race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

LONG POND, Pa. - This may be the surest sign yet that everything is falling into place this season for Jeff Gordon: Even the dark clouds hovering above him are bringing him luck.

With his brakes failing and Ryan Newman nipping at the No. 24's bumper, Gordon was begging for the skies to open and let that rain start coming and not stop until he was in Victory Lane.

"It's raining! It's raining! Throw the caution!" he said later, recalling the moment.

The caution came, the race was red flagged and Gordon showed again that nothing will slow him down.

Gordon used the rain and a smart call by crew chief Steve Letarte to win the rain-shortened race at Pocono Race-way on Sunday night and give the points leader his fourth win this season.

"We're having a heck of a year," Gordon said. "We're having so much fun going to the race track. Things are going our way."

Not quite like Sunday.

The race was red flagged after 106 laps of the scheduled 200-lap, 500-mile race. With darkness falling, the cars went back to pit road and never came back after a final attempt to dry the track. The race had been delayed three hours by rain, starting close to the time the race usually ends.

With dark clouds closing in and Gordon's brakes on the fritz, crew chief Steve Letarte called the car into the pits for an early service call. Gordon relinquished the lead on the stop, but Letarte figured his driver would cycle back to the front after everyone else made their scheduled stops.

And he assumed it would start raining while Gordon was leading. It was a gamble, because the earlier pit stop had put Gordon off sequence with the rest of the field. If it didn't rain quickly, he'd have to pit much earlier than every-one else and would fall deep into the field after the stop.

But if it did rain in that short window, they'd be out front and inherit the win when the race was called.

"That was risky," Gordon said. "He knew exactly how he was going to play it out."

It all played out perfectly, as the sky opened seconds before Newman closed in on Gordon and NASCAR stopped the race. They still had to wait about 35 minutes for NASCAR to call the event, handing Gordon his fourth win at Pocono and first since 1998.

"Steve made a gutsy, great call based on looking at the radar," Gordon said.

Hendrick Motorsports recorded its 10th win in the last 12 Nextel Cup races.

"A lot of what people see is luck," Letarte said. "Today with the weather, it was a lot of luck."

Newman's late charge put him second, extending his miserable run of having no wins to show for all his poles. The race pole sitter seemed poised to catch Gordon right before the caution came out and instead stretched his winless drought to 59 races.

Newman has eight poles - including four this year - since his last win in September 2005. He finished second last week at Dover.

"I'm not mad by any means," Newman said. "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."

Drivers had to wait again after last week's race at Dover was pushed back a day because of rain. The Pocono 500 became a race to the 101st lap to make it official, leading to some hard and frantic racing early on a track more known for some leisurely stretches in the first half.

Martin Truex Jr. was third and Casey Mears fourth in the first Nextel Cup race since former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. died on Monday. A moment of silence was held before the green flag dropped and a prayer was said at the end of the driver's meeting to "remember the France family and continue to comfort them."

"Bill and his entire family did so much for the sport," Gordon said. "You know, we wouldn't be here with these sponsors all over the cars and the fans in the stands and be this excited about pit strategy wins if this sport wasn't as popular as it is. And that would never be possible without Bill France Jr., without Bill France Sr. and the France family."

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin took fifth and sixth. Hamlin swept both races on the 2.5-mile triangle track last season and failed in his bid to become only the third driver to win three straight here.

Kurt Busch, docked 100 points for his pit road run-in with Stewart at Dover, was 16th.

Jimmie Johnson, who swept Pocono in 2004, blew his left front tire 91 laps into the race causing his No. 48 Chevro-let to spark and smoke into pit road. Johnson took his car to the garage and finished 42nd, dropping from second to fourth in the points standings.

Gordon won for the fourth time in the last seven races to go along with Victory Lane celebrations at Phoenix, Talladega and Darlington.

"The 24 snookered all of us pretty bad," Truex said. "I think five or 10 more laps and we had a shot at the win."

Gordon couldn't ask for a better year on or off the track.

He overcame an overheating engine in early May to win at Darlington Raceway. And Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch are expecting their first child - a daughter - at the end of June.

This was the fourth time he won a rain-shortened race.

Rain or shine, Car of Tomorrow or the regular model. Gordon will take all the wins he can no matter how they come.

"It was bizarre for many reasons," he said.

Penske Racing still backs Busch

LONG POND, Pa. - Even with a lighter wallet, and an unexpected and unnecessary climb ahead in the standings, Roger Penske is still in hot-tempered Kurt Busch's corner.

While Penske was upset with how Busch handled himself in a pit row dustup that saw him nearly take out a member of Tony Stewart's crew, the car owner remained supportive of Busch.

"Kurt has a great talent in driving and I think this was a time that he checked out in maybe using his head and moved into a situation that put him at risk," Penske said at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.

Busch and Stewart were involved in an accident on the track at Dover that carried over into the pits late in the race. Busch pulled his No. 2 Dodge next to Stewart's car, forcing jackman Jason Lee to jump back and onto the hood.

Penske's called Busch's lack of control in the pits, "the wrong move."

Busch was docked 100 points, fined $100,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year.

Penske, who had no plan to appeal, also was penalized 100 owner points. Penske told Busch he had to spend quality time with his crew to make amends and make sure they were all on the same page.

"We're going to try and keep our nose clean," Penske said. "I'm going to continue to support him, the team's going to support him and we've got to move on."

Penske wondered if he could have prevented the dustup if he was at the race, but said he's been pleased overall with Busch's conduct since joining the team in 2006. Busch joined Penske on the heels of being charged off the track with reckless driving and a tarnished reputation.

"What he's done for us, he's been pretty cool," Penske said. "When we signed him up, word was he had a DUI, which was not the case at all. That was a cloud we had to work our way out of for quite a bit of time. I think we've done that."

It was the first Nextel Cup race since former chairman Bill France Jr. died Monday. The raceway hung a banner thanking France for all he did for NASCAR and a moment of silence was held before the green flag was dropped.

"I'm sure the legacy will continue on as it did when big Bill passed away," Penske said. "I see things moving on."

Penske could forget about poor pit conduct and penalties for a night. He had something to celebrate when Sam Hornish Jr. won his first Indy Racing League race of the season at Texas on Saturday night. Penske said Hornish wouldn't compete in the Cup race at Indianapolis, and the IRL driver was firmly focused on the ARCA race this weekend at Michigan.

"He's really looking forward to it," Penske said. "Last night, we really got the monkey off our back. He really had a strong car and ran strong all night. People are saying he's doing too much. But that's not the case. Racers are racers."

Penske said he would not commit to a third Nextel Cup team for 2008 and he denied interest in switching from Dodge to Toyota.

Staying put

Pocono Raceway CEO Joseph Mattioli doesn't expect to lose one of the track's two Nextel Cup races because of the death of his longtime friend, former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr.

"Unless we let the place to go to hell," Mattioli said. "I can't see anybody changing anything, no."

Mattioli adhered to his long-standing tradition of refusing to read his sanction papers before he signed them Friday. He said he asks only one question before flipping ahead to the dotted line.

"Are you going to treat me like everybody else? Look me in the eye," he said. "No, I never read them. These people made us all millionaires. All of us. They've never, ever in all the decisions they've had to make, never once in 35 years was I led wrong. Never."

The Pennsylvania 500 will be held on the triangle track on Aug. 5.

Cup debut

One day after winning an ARCA race at Pocono, Chad McCumbee finished a respectable 25th in his Nextel Cup debut.

With Kyle Petty taking a summer break to broadcast for TNT, McCumbee got the call to drive the No. 45 Dodge in the Pocono 500.

McCumbee drives full time in the Craftsman Truck Series and hoped he could impress Petty officials enough in this short stint that it could lead to something bigger down the road.

"It was a strange race, but I think we did all right," he said. "Winning the ARCA race on Saturday gave me a lot of confidence, and I think we did what we set out to do in our first Cup race."

John Andretti fills in for Petty until he returns.

Bad luck Gordon

While Jeff Gordon caught a break with the rain to win the Pocono 500, Robby Gordon saw a strong start derailed by a flat left front tire.

Gordon was coming off his first top 10 finish of the season last week at Dover and talked about all the momentum he hoped to build off that result. Running in the top 15, Gordon blew a tire on the 49th lap to bring out the first caution and he finished a disappointing 41st.

"We'll come back here in just a little more than month and we'll take what we learned out of here and we'll apply it next time we come back," he said.


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