When Jimmie Johnson fell down, the rest of Hendrick Motorsports stood up on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Johnson had been a force in the first half of the race until he cut a right-front tire and slammed the Turn 2 wall just after the halfway point. But his HMS teammates picked up where he left off, with Kasey Kahne leading Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag at the GoBowling.com 400.
Kahne notched his second victory of the season, but was forced to battle for it. He was leading by 7.6 seconds over Gordon before the yellow flag came out for debris in Turn 2 with 12 laps remaining.
On the restart with eight laps to go, Gordon and Kahne went side-by-side for the lead through Turns 2 and 3 before Gordon was able to make the pass coming down the front-stretch.
But contact between Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth with five laps to go sent the latter into a spin and triggered the final restart of the day with two laps left, with Gordon, Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski as the Top 5.
Kahne proceeded to get a big run on the outside of Gordon in Turn 1 and went side by side with the four-time Sprint Cup champion down the Long Pond straightaway before finishing the pass on the outside of Pocono’s treacherous “tunnel” turn. He would go on to win by 1.4 seconds over Gordon, with Kurt Busch, Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. following.
“I about gave it away – Jeff got by me and then on that final restart, I spun my tires a little bit and he got a great jump,” Kahne told ESPN in Victory Lane. “But Kurt pushed me all the way to Turn 1, which really helped and then I just went off of Turn 2 and it was ‘Go for it and make it work or not’.
“As good as our [car] was all day long, I thought we could make that work on the outside, I just needed to clear him. When we got to Turn 2, I was able to do that.”
Gordon was happy to be able to come from 22nd starting position and contend for the win, but disappointed that he couldn’t pull it out in the end.
“I got a perfect restart on that last one, probably jumped [Kahne] a little bit,” he said. “I moved out in front of him and it looked like I’d need to block the inside, so I tried to protect the inside and he blasted up on the outside. He flat out-drove me through [Turn] 1.”
Johnson, who likely would’ve played a role in the outcome if not for his incident at the halfway point, battled back to finish 13th. The Top 10 was completed by Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle.