LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon nearly raced his way into Victory Lane.
Until a late-race caution flag flew. And so did Kasey Kahne.
Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, muscled his way past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to take the lead on a restart with eight laps remaining in Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
But when Matt Kenseth spun to bring out the day's final caution on Lap 157 of the 160-lap event, Kahne returned the favor, rocketing past Gordon in the treacherous tunnel turn on the 2.5-mile track and checking out on the field.
"He was super fast all day," admitted Gordon, who celebrated his 42nd birthday with a runner-up finish and slight gain in the points battle. "I mean ? they deserved and earned that win today."
"We had them though."
Any restart during a race is an intense affair. Those at the end can border on insane.
Teams have two views, depending on where their driver happens to be running at the time.
For those out front, the only thing worse than a restart is seeing their driver unexpectedly fall off the pace. For those trailing, it's an opportunity to make up lost ground and take a final shot at the leader.
It's not often a team and driver experience both in the same event. Gordon and his No. 24 team did. He had him, and then he didn't.
"It's one of those deals where you hope it averages out (in your favor)," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Gordon. "They're kind of chaotic. 'How good of a restart did you get? How good did the guys behind you do? Who's pushing who?'
"If that's not exciting for the fans, I don't know what is. All I hear about is the racing isn't as good. I don't know what they're watching. How much better do you want it to be?"
It was the fifth top-five finish for Gordon in his last six starts, a stretch of races that have seen him climb from 16th in points and a practically a Chase afterthought to ninth in points and a legitimate contender.
Restarting on the inside played to his car's strength, he said, "But man, (Kasey) got a killer run and blasted on the outside of me. Caught me by surprise, I'll be honest."
The second-place finish might not have totally erased the disappointment of a win that got away, but it made it somewhat easier to swallow.
"I feel fortunate to finish second," he said. "I feel like we had a great day all in all, and I'm very proud of that. It's something we can build a lot of momentum on.
"Yeah, I'm frustrated right now because we had a shot at it. We know how important wins are, but second is a great points day for us as well."
Gordon improved his position in the points by one, and currently sits ninth. The top 10 in points after the 26th race of the season earn berths for the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Wild Card positions are awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th with the most wins, or are highest in points if none have won.
Gordon, winless since capturing the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2012, hopes to avoid going the Wild Card route.
Gustafson does, too.
"We're on a nice little run; putting together some solid finishes," Gustafson said. "It's not hurting. Confidence goes a long way and we're chipping away at it."
"We've pulled together some decent finishes, but it hasn't been pretty," said Gordon . "?I feel like we've been fortunate to get some of the top-10s that we've gotten ? recently, and today I felt like we finally actually went out and earned that one."
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