NOTEBOOK: Earnhardt Jr. retains points lead despite transmission troubleLightning strikes injure 10 fans
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
LONG POND, Pa.-- When Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost third and fourth gears 49 laps into Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway, the points lead he took last week at Indianapolis appeared headed for the door.
That was before his three closest pursuers -- Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson -- all had issues of their own.
Kenseth wrecked on the decisive restart on Lap 91 -- when race winner Jeff Gordon went to the front for good -- and finished 23rd. Biffle lost pace, in NASCAR's judgment, on that same wild restart and was credited with a 15th-place result.
Johnson, who caused the wreck when his car broke loose under Kenseth's, likewise failed to maintain pace and was placed 14th, where he blended back into line after the caution flew.
Consequently, Earnhardt retained a narrow advantage, by five points over Kenseth, six over Biffle and eight over Johnson.
Earnhardt, however, did see his streak of consecutive lead-lap finishes end at 21, a NASCAR record he shares with Gordon.
After his team changed the transmission, Earnhardt returned to the track and finished 32nd, 18 laps down. Needless to say, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet was disappointed by the failure.
"We had a good run going," said Earnhardt, who led 17 laps before losing his top gears. "This Chevrolet was pretty fast. Jimmie Johnson (had) the quickest car out there, but we felt like we might be able to work on ours and get it a little better."
BRAKE PROBLEM COSTS KYLE BUSCH
Kyle Busch is a realist.
After a broken brake rotor sent him into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 19 of Sunday's race, Busch knows he must win at least one of the next five races to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Busch had a harrowing experience when he blew out a rear brake rotor heading toward the tightest turn at Pocono.
"Getting down into Turn 1 with a three-wheel brake is about the worst situation you can have as a race car driver," Busch said. "I kept trying to pump it to keep feeding pressure to the rest of the three wheels to keep it off the fence -- but just couldn't do it."
Busch finished 33rd and dropped to 15th in the Cup standings and fourth in the race for one of two available wild card berths in the Chase.
"We're obviously not going to make the top 10 (and a guaranteed Chase spot), so if we get at win -- great -- we'll make the Chase," Busch said. "If not, we'll probably miss it."
RAIN PUTS DAMPER ON EDWARDS' RUN
Another driver in dire need of a victory, Carl Edwards, had his chances cut short by the rain.
Edwards is 12th in the standings, 60 points out of 10th, but without a win since March of last year. Under those circumstances, his seventh-place finish on Sunday wasn't quite good enough.
"We needed another restart," Edwards said. "It's too bad that the rain came when it did, because we needed to keep racing... The good news is that we were fast, and (crew chief) Chad (Norris) has done a really good job with the car, and I'm really looking forward to next week (at Watkins Glen).
"I have never wanted to race so bad in my life -- I want to be racing right now."
LIGHTNING STRIKES INJURE 10 FANS
At least two lightning strikes from the storm that ended Sunday's race after 98 of a scheduled 160 laps injured a total of 10 fans, two critically, in the parking lot behind the main grandstand and near Gate 3.
One of those critically injured was transported to Pocono Medical Center, the other to Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown. Two fans were taken to Geisinger Medical Center-Wilkes-Barre with moderate and minor injuries, respectively.
Another fan who sustained minor injuries was transported to Pocono Medical Center. Five other people affected by the strikes were examined on the scene and advised to consult their own doctors.
As the race ended, Pocono Raceway officials advised fans to vacate the grandstands as soon as possible because lighting was imminent.