Kurt Busch's winless drought is over. His absence from the Chase might not last much longer, either, not as long as crew chief Pat Tryson calls all the right shots.
Busch dominated Pocono Raceway from the opening lap Sunday in winning the Pennsylvania 500 and raced his way back into championship contention - a perfect belated birthday gift.
A day after he turned 29, Busch snapped a 51-race losing skid and jumped to 12th in points, the final spot in the Chase for the Championship, with five races left until the cutoff.
"It's been 50-something races and that was a tough burden," Busch said.
Busch, who missed the Chase last season after qualifying in 2004 and '05, hadn't been in the top 12 in points since a 100-point penalty for reckless driving in June knocked him six spots down to 17th.
Now he's on his biggest roll of the season. He turned a 13-point deficit behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. into a seven-point edge.
"The big picture is we've got a few more races to go until Richmond," Busch said.
Busch led all but 25 laps and made his second career Pocono victory look easy. The 175 laps led was a Pocono record.
Not even a lug nut problem on pit road under caution late in the race affected him very much. Busch's No. 2 Dodge was clearly the car to beat all day.
Busch was ninth on a Lap 143 restart, but he quickly made up ground and passed the revitalized Earnhardt for the lead with 47 laps left.
"Kurt had the best car all day," Earnhardt said.
It was Busch's first win since March 26, 2006, at Bristol, and he was second in both Pocono races last year.
Earnhardt was second and Denny Hamlin, who swept both races at Pocono last year, finished third. Points leader Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.
"We actually had a stronger car than the last time we were here," said Gordon, who won at Pocono in June. "If the No. 2 car didn't exist today, then maybe some of us had a chance to win this thing. But wow."
Tryson, made available when he was let go as Greg Biffle's crew chief this season, has given the Penske Racing program a needed boost.
"I'm lucky enough to come in and work for these guys," Tryson said. "They've accepted me and done everything I've asked."
NASCAR sits R. Gordon
Robby Gordon might have sparked NASCAR's first international incident.
NASCAR parked Gordon on Sunday, keeping him out of the Pennsylvania 500 as a result of his actions in Saturday's Busch Series race in Montreal.
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Gordon was parked for committing an act "determined by a NASCAR official to constitute a threat to the orderly conduct of the event."
Gordon was black-flagged late in the Busch race and refused to leave the track. He wrecked leader Marcos Ambrose with a retaliatory bump on the final restart after Ambrose had nudged him from behind to reclaim the lead.
"It was not my purpose to disrespect the authority of NASCAR or the officials," Gordon said. "I do respect their authority to run the race and make the calls, and I understand the significance of the black flag. I strongly disagree with the calls that affected me at the end of the race."
Pennsylvania 500 Gearhead stats
Time of race: 3 hours, 47 minutes, 55 seconds
Average speed: 131.627 mph
Margin of victory: 4.131 seconds
Cautions: Seven for 27 laps
Lead changes: 17 among 11 drivers
Lap leaders: Ku.Busch 1-32; Truex 33; Elliott 34; Ku.Busch 35-55; Labonte 56; Ku.Busch 57-89; Kenseth 90; Bowyer 91; Green 92-95; Ku.Busch 96-119; Newman 120; Ku.Busch 121-139; Sorenson 140-144; Earnhardt Jr. 145-152; Ku.Busch 153-171; Ky.Busch 172-173; Ku.Busch 174-200.
Nextel Cup point standings
Through 21 of 36 races. The top 12 through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship; those above the line would qualify if the Chase started today:
Driver Pts Back
1. Jeff Gordon 3236 -
2. Denny Hamlin 2870 366
3. Matt Kenseth 2825 411
4. Jeff Burton 2763 473
5. Tony Stewart 2749 487
6. Carl Edwards 2682 554
7. J. Johnson 2624 612
8. Kyle Busch 2611 625
9. Kevin Harvick 2600 636
10. Clint Bowyer 2552 684
11. Martin Truex 2437 802
12. Kurt Busch 2399 837
13. D. Earnhardt Jr. 2392 844
14. Ryan Newman 2309 927
15. Greg Biffle 2186 1050
Centurion Boats at the Glen, 2 p.m. Sunday, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. TV/radio: ESPN; 1010-AM