LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon moved into a tie for third on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup career victories list, winning for the 84th time when he took the checkered flag Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Gordon led most of the final 40 laps and won for the second time this season. His 84 wins tie him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most in NASCAR history. Richard Petty leads with 200 wins and David Pearson is second with 105.
Gordon won in February at Phoenix International Raceway and has multiple victories in a season for the first time since 2007. Gordon tied Bill Elliott with five wins on the 2 1/2-mile triangle track.
Gordon’s victory at Phoenix ended his drought at 66 races without a win. This 11-race winless stretch was just a blip compared to that.
“When you see what he’s done in his career, not just this decade, not just in the 2000’s, but all the way back to the ’90s, he’s a true legend in this sport,” Kurt Busch said.
Busch, the polesitter, was second and Kyle Busch third.
Kyle’s Busch fun was short-lived. NASCAR announced his No. 18 Toytota failed postrace inspection with a height issue on the left-front end. His car will be taken to NASCAR’s research and development center.
Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his rebirth with a sixth-place finish. It capped a great day for Hendrick Motorsports — first, fourth and sixth.
Gordon, the four-time Cup champion, first won at Pocono in 1996. He won again in 1997 and 1998, then waited until 2007 to reach Victory Lane again.
This win was a bit more special for Gordon, who turns 40 in August. His first order of business once he hopped out of the car was a kiss from his daughter, Ella.
Team owner Rick Hendrick’s offseason decision to shake up his organization has proved an early success. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson have the No. 24 Chevrolet in fantastic shape for a spot in the Chase for the championship.
“I feel a lot better about it, that’s for darn sure,” Gordon said.
Gordon entered the race having led a record 918 laps at Pocono Raceway. He added 39 to the total Sunday.
Some of the early contenders fell off. Denny Hamlin, who led early and has four wins here, ran into tire woes and dropped back to 19th. Carl Edwards lost his grip on the points lead — his 40-point lead was sliced to six — when a bad engine knocked him out early. He finished 37th.
Once those two were out of contention, the 500-mile race belonged to Gordon. The Busch brothers tried to catch him, but just didn’t have enough in the end.
“I’m giving it all I’ve got and I just can’t close the gap,” Kurt Busch said.
Wins have been harder to get for Gordon as his career stretches into its 20th season. He hit double-digits three straight seasons (1996-98), but had winless seasons in 2008 and 2010.
“It’s harder and harder to win in this day and age,” Kyle Busch. “We see it every year.”
Gordon hit a rough patch after his Phoenix victory — including a 36th at Las Vegas and a 39th at Richmond — but a change in the Chase format this year put an added emphasis on wins. That stamps Gordon as a contender for that fifth title — the same number as Johnson.
“A lot of hard work has gone into this,” Gordon said.
Gordon was behind the wheel this week for the 2-hour drive from his New York City apartment to the Poconos.
He said he loves it any time he can get himself to the track.
No doubt, he loves it even more when he can park in Victory Lane.