Hamlin fuels himself to the win at Pocono

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JULY 28: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, clebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 28, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin has proven himself to be an expert at fuel mileage races and he showed that again Sunday rolling the dice on a fuel mileage gamble and winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Gander RV at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin pitted for the final time on lap 114 and stretched his fuel out to 49 laps, including three in overtime, to win his third race of 2019.

“I was really worried,” Hamlin said of his fuel.  “Really worried.  We just did a great job with the car.  Once we lost the track position there to the 19 and the 20, I thought it was over, we weren’t able to pass them.”

As the final laps wound down, Hamlin laid back inside the top 3 saving fuel as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones occupied first and second.  Hamlin made his move with 16 laps left in regulation taking the lead from Jones on lap 144.  Hamlin praised the traction compound the track had put down.

“Thanks Pocono for putting in this PJ1,” he said.  “I was able to use it there, get around those guys.”

Hamlin was able to save a bit of fuel when Josh Bilicki stopped on the track with 8 laps to go.  The restart came with 4 laps to go but behind the leaders, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced into the wall exiting turn 1 by Kurt Busch.  Stenhouse retaliated spinning Kurt Busch who crashed into Michael McDowell and setting up an overtime finish.

On the restart Hamlin took the lead as Jones charged past to grab second.  From there it was a waiting game as the entire top 10, led by Hamlin, had enough fuel and Hamlin beat Jones for the win by .341 of a second.

“The lapped traffic was really a benefit for me,” Hamlin said. “It kind of slowed up the 20 (Erik Jones) there. I saw he was letting off early on entries and that allowed me to kind of dive bomb into the outside into the PJ1 in Turn 1. With the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), he had to go low to pass a lapped car. I decided to just take the middle lane there in (Turns) 3 and 4. Once again, I had an extra lane that wasn’t there in the past and was able to get around him. Once you get behind, it’s so hard to pass and get around guys, but we were able to get it done.”

Jones held on for second.

“It would be great to knock a win out,” Jones who was credited with leading 10 laps, said.  “We’re just so close, it stings a little bit more when you get close to it.”

Truex completed a Joe Gibbs Racing top three sweep. William Byron was fourth with Kyle Larson, who had started in the rear of the field in a backup car racing to fifth.

“The 11 (Hamlin) got me in lap traffic,” Truex said.  “Once the caution came out, he had on the restart the outside.  You can’t do anything about it.  Inside on the front row is just sitting ducks. We were lucky to maintain on both of those restarts starting on the bottom.  Come home third was a good day.  Good weekend overall for us.”

Kevin Harvick, who led from pole and a race high 62 laps was sixth, rookie Daniel Hemric was seventh and Brad Keselowski eighth. Kyle Busch led the second most laps on the day 56 and won the first stage but pitted for fuel on lap 135 and was never able to make it back to the front; he finished ninth.  Ryan Blaney overcame a spin on lap 98 to finish 10th.

In the playoff standings there were no major changes.  Ryan Newman, who finished 14th, was above the 16th place cutline by 21 and Clint Bowyer who came home 11th, by 17 starting the day. They leave Pocono both 12 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson who won stage 2, his first since 2017 and who finished 15th. Daniel Suarez who was involved in a crash and penalized for jumping a restart finished 24th and is 31 points out.

The Pocono win is the fifth for Hamlin at the track top among active drivers  and one behind Jeff Gordon for the most wins, Gordon has six.  It also solidifies his contender status for the Playoffs.

“We’re running our best right now,” Hamlin said.  “No doubt about it.  We are just going to keep plugging along.  That’s all I can say.  We’re doing the best we can.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to the road course at Watkins Glen next Sunday.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Gander RV 400

Pocono Raceway

Long Pond, Pennsylvania

Sunday, July 28, 2019

1. (9)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 163.

2. (4)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 163.

3. (8)  Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 163.

4. (31)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 163.

5. (23)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 163.

6. (1)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 163.

7. (17)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 163.

8. (11)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 163.

9. (5)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 163.

10. (30)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 163.

11. (13)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 163.

12. (3)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 163.

13. (2)  Joey Logano, Ford, 163.

14. (19)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 163.

15. (32)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 163.

16. (33)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 163.

17. (10)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 163.

18. (16)  Paul Menard, Ford, 163.

19. (34)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 163.

20. (12)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 163.

21. (14)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 163.

22. (21)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 163.

23. (22)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, 163.

24. (7)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, 163.

25. (35)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 163.

26. (36)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 162.

27. (6)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 162.

28. (24)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 159.

29. (25)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 159.

30. (37)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 159.

31. (28)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 158.

32. (38)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 158.

33. (27)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 158.

34. (29)  Austin Theriault, Ford, 157.

35. (26)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, Driveshaft, 146.

36. (15)  David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 123.

37. (20)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, Accident, 114.

38. (18)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 83.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  133.804 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 59 Mins, 22 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.341 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  7 for 24 laps.

Lead Changes:  9 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Harvick 1-39;K. Busch 40-51;K. Harvick 52-71;K. Busch 72-97;J. Johnson 98-100;K. Harvick 101-103;D. Hamlin 104-115;K. Busch 116-133;E. Jones 134-143;D. Hamlin 144-163.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kevin Harvick 3 times for 62 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 56 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 32 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 10 laps; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 3 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,22,4,11,19,42,20,10,1,14

Stage #2 Top Ten: 48,4,22,19,11,3,20,2,88,42

Greg Engle