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

Jeff Gordon takes a walk after winning the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. It is his 86th career victory, third all-time.

Associated Press

Jeff Gordon takes a walk after winning the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. It is his 86th career victory, third all-time.

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.


Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 139.249 mph

Time of race: 1 hour, 45 minutes, 34 seconds

Margin of victory: Under caution

Caution flags: Three for 14 laps

Lead changes: 13 among 10 drivers

Lap leaders: Montoya 1-7; Hamlin 8-10; Earnhardt Jr. 11-20; McMurray 21-23; Keselowski 24-31; Earnhardt Jr. 32-38; Johnson 39-46; Kenseth 47; Kahne 48; Ku.Busch 49-51; Johnson 52-75; Kenseth 76-78; Johnson 79-90; J.Gordon 91-98.

Sprint Cup points

Through 21 of 36 races. The top 10 plus two wild cards (based on wins) through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 744—

Matt Kenseth 739 5

Greg Biffle 738 6

Jimmie Johnson 736 8

Martin Truex 694 50

Tony Stewart 691 53

Brad Keselowski 690 54

Denny Hamlin 683 61

Kevin Harvick 680 64

Clint Bowyer 679 65

Kasey Kahne * 622 122

Carl Edwards 619 125

Jeff Gordon * 611 133

Ryan Newman 611 133

Kyle Busch 599 145

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official points today

* Current wild-card holder.

Up next

Sprint Cup at the Glen, 1 p.m. Sunday, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. TV: ESPN

Jeff Gordon's Pocono win marred by fan's death in lightning strike 08/05/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 5, 2012 10:46pm]
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