Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Sports

Jeff Gordon's Pocono win marred by fan's death in lightning strike

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LONG POND, Pa. — In a race marred by the death of a fan hit by lightning, Jeff Gordon earned his first victory of the season Sunday, taking advantage of an accident involving teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon was ahead when the race was called because of a downpour preceding the fatal storm.

After the Pennsylvania 400, officials at Pocono Raceway said one person died and nine others were injured after a lightning strike in the parking lot behind the grandstand.

"You hate to hear something like that," Gordon said. "Certainly our thoughts are with them."

Gordon earned his 86th career victory and first since September 2011 at Atlanta to thrust himself into wild-card contention in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.

This was the first time his wife and both of his young children joined his celebration.

"That experience to me today means so much more than anything else," he said.

Johnson inadvertently gave his Hendrick Motorsports teammate the help he needed. Johnson's No. 48 had a flat tire off a restart and slammed Matt Kenseth into the wall. Kenseth slid down the track and took out Denny Hamlin and three other cars.

With an unexpected opening triggered by the accident, Gordon, who started 27th, zipped through the holes in traffic in his No. 24 Chevrolet.

It couldn't have come at a better time. The skies opened and cars were ordered off the track. The race was called moments later with 98 of 160 scheduled laps completed.

It was a belated present for Gordon a day after his 41st birthday.

The win moved him into the second wild-card spot that would guarantee a berth in the Chase field. He and Ryan Newman are tied for 13th with 611 points. Each has one win; the next tiebreakers are most second-place finishes, most thirds and so on. Gordon owns the spot with two fifth-place finishes to Newman's one.

Gordon, who also won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2007, passed Bill Elliott for most wins at Pocono with six.

Gordon had winless seasons in 2008 and 2010 — a late-career drought far removed from the years when he was a regular in Victory Lane. He had double-digit victories in three straight seasons (1996-98) and seemed a lock to hit 100 victories by 35 and put himself behind only Richard Petty on the all-time list.

Kasey Kahne, who owns the other wild-card spot with his two wins, finished second, followed by Martin Truex, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart.

Kahne refused to rule out another Gordon championship run if he stays in the Chase field.

"Absolutely. It's Jeff Gordon. Look what he's done," Kahne said.

After the wreck, Hamlin was taken to the infield care center and complained of discomfort around his abdomen but was released.

Johnson blamed a flat tire for sparking the accidents.

"I shouldn't feel bad about that, but not much you can do with a right-rear flat," he said.

As for the lightning strike, it wasn't immediately clear if all 10 people were hit in the parking lot behind the grandstands, nor how many strikes occurred.

Track president Brandon Igdalsky said a fan died at Pocono Medical Center, but he provided no further details.

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