Milestone day doesn't end Jeff Gordon's way
August 03, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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LONG POND, Pa. -- In spite of yet another strong car, and on a day that saw him exceed the 24,000 laps led mark for his career, Jeff Gordon couldn't overcome the short-pitting strategy of his rivals.
Instead of career win No. 91, Gordon finished sixth in Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored the win, emerging on top after a tense battle with Kevin Harvick following the final restart of the 160-lap race.
Pit strategy helped keep Gordon out front for a race-leading 63 laps. But others chose differently in the closing segment of the race, leaving the Hendrick Motorsports driver playing catchup.
Career laps led in NASCAR premier series competition:
Richard Petty: 51,380
Cale Yarborough: 31,556
Bobby Allison: 27,551
Dale Earnhardt: 25,684
David Pearson: 25,294
Jeff Gordon: 24,012
"Those guys knew that they had to do the exact opposite strategy of us, but Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team just did an amazing job today," Gordon said. "We had the dominant car, but you had to have track position and … there at the end we didn't have it. I think if we had started outside lanes there at the end we would have had it."
Gordon gave up the lead for the final time at Lap 131 to pit for tires and fuel. He was seventh on a Lap 144 restart but only fifth when the caution flew for an incident involving Kurt Busch.
Earnhardt Jr., using a different strategy, needed only the briefest of stops for a splash of fuel, putting him out front of the No. 24 and within eyesight of leader Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing). He moved into the lead on Lap 147.
"I think if we had started outside … there at the end we would have had it," Gordon said. "My restarts weren't terrible today, they weren’t bad when we were on the outside and we could make up some spots. Unfortunately on those last couple … we were on the inside.
"But with Dale getting out in front of us there through that pit sequence, there was nothing we could do. … Whoever got out front, him or me, was going to win the race."
The finish was Gordon's 15th top-10 and kept him atop the points standings. He leads Earnhardt Jr. by 17 after 21 of this season’s 36 points races.
Contending for wins on a regular basis has a familiar feel.
"It's incredible. I was actually leading (the) race going 'yeah, I remember what this feels like,'" he said. "It's been a long time but the way the cars are performing, the way the team is performing it's very reminiscent of old school 24. It's a lot of fun.
"… We're going through the motions in practice and qualifying and we don't always look like we're the fastest car but when they drop the green … It was just a dominant day, just unfortunate it didn’t finish the way we wanted it to."
Gordon has now led 24,012 laps for his career. He also became the first driver to lead 1,000 laps at Pocono Raceway.