When Jeff Gordon awoke Sunday morning, he was 15th in Sprint Cup points, needing a win and a little luck to work his way into serious Chase contention.
Ninety-eight laps and two thunderstorms later, he had stumbled onto both, which could have historic consequences throughout the rest of 2012 and beyond.
If Gordon makes the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it will be thanks in large part to the stroke of luck that landed him in victory lane Sunday.
And make no mistake: If that win propels Gordon into the Chase, he is a legitimate threat to win it.
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports team has been consistently fast all season long. The four-time Cup champion has also consistently had the worst luck of any driver on the circuit in 2012.
All season long, it's been one bad break after another. A blown engine at Daytona. A cut tire at Bristol. A late-race spin at Martinsville. Getting trapped a lap down by a caution at Dover.
Gordon's bad luck almost became comical. Then, lady luck smiled down on him when he needed it most.
Running fifth as he took the green for what would be Sunday's final restart, Gordon avoided the calamity in Turn 1 when leader Jimmie Johnson made contact with Matt Kenseth, causing a crash that also involved fourth-place Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin, and nearly collected third-place runner Brad Keselowski.
The incident cleared the way for Gordon, who went from fifth to first in what would be the race-winning move, as the event was declared over before racing resumed due to heavy rains.
But Sunday's win was more than just a means of padding Gordon's hold on third place on the all-time wins list (it was the 86th win of his career). It could spark the turnaround of his dismal luck this season and be just what he needs to reinvigorate his pursuit of a fifth championship.
Gordon hasn't won a Sprint Cup title in 11 years, and, having turned 41 on Saturday, isn't getting any younger. That said, he's still the same man that won four championships in seven years from 1995-2001 and is still as talented as any driver on the Cup circuit.
The No. 24 team has shown all season that it has more than enough speed to compete for wins and championships. All that's been missing has been a few breaks and a little luck.
Gordon got that in a big way on Sunday, and is now heading down the stretch with a renewed confidence and fire that could make him the most dangerous man in the Chase, should he make it.
If Gordon is somehow able to pull it off and win the title—and the chance of that happening is very, very real—then this past Sunday's race at Pocono will be looked back on in two, five or 10 years as the race in which the ship was finally righted for the No. 24 team in 2012.
It will be remembered as the day that a man that needed little luck in those dominant seasons early in his career was finally thrown the bone he was looking for during this one.
It will be remembered as the day that the tide turned in the 2012 championship race. The day that Jeff Gordon was set on the path to his fifth championship.
And it will be legendary.
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