Denny Hamlin wasn’t the most liked person in Long Pond, Pennsylvania Sunday night. Hamlin scored the 50th win of his career and his seventh at Pocono Raceway, the most all time. But the victory certainly wasn’t his most popular one.
Hamlin took the lead on a restart after the races 9th of 11 cautions by passing Kyle Larson on lap 154 squeezing him up the track coming out of Turn 2 and heading down the backstretch after emerging from a gaggle of cars all looking for the lead running three wide.
That 9th caution was caused after Hamlin seemed to get into Alex Bowman while fighting for a top five spot and Bowman spun up into the outside wall.
A lap after Hamlin took the lead, Justin Haley spun into the outside wall bringing out caution 10. Hamlin was credited with the lead and Larson showed his displeasure by squeezing Hamlin into the outside wall coming to the start-finish line.
On the restart Larson lined up on the inside behind Martin Truex Jr. while Hamlin chose the outside. The race restarted with 3 laps to go, and it soon became a two car battle with Truex on the rear of Hamlin. On the penultimate lap Ryan Preece spun coming out of Turn 2 but didn’t make contact. NASCAR let the field take the white flag with no caution. When Hamlin entered Turn 1 on the final lap, however, Preece had stalled on the backstretch; Truex and Tyler Reddick were fighting for second and Hamlin was stretching out his lead, NASCAR threw the caution ending the race with Hamlin as the winner.
Reddick was able to secure second with Truex third. Kevin Harvick and Ty Gibbs rounded out the top five.
Polesitter William Byron led the most laps, 60, but as is normally the case at Pocono it was all about playing the right strategy, and Byron was among the group that played it wrong.
Larson was among those who did, but he had to overcome a spin on lap 46 that nearly derailed his entire race. He was leading on lap 92 nearly out of fuel when he had some racing luck. Christopher Bell in 14th spun just as Larson was starting to come into the pits. His crew chief wisely called him off. The caution came out, and Larson was still in the lead.
Larson was forced to run 3 slow laps under caution hoping his Chevy had enough fuel to make the end of the stage. It did and he won Stage 2.
Another round of green flag stops that started on lap 120 saw several drivers including Larson and Hamlin, take only two tires and fuel. When the stops cycled through on lap 144, Larson was again in the lead with Hamlin behind. Truex, who had taken 4 tires and fuel soon caught up and it became a three-car battle.
That ended with the lap 150 caution that saw Hamlin take the lead and go on to win. The sold-out crowd voiced their displeasure after Hamlin got out of his car at the start-finish line.
“I love it,” Hamlin said. “They can boo my rock out of here in a few years.”
Pocono paints rocks outside the garage to honor some of NASCAR’s greats.
As for the contact with Bell and Larson, Hamlin made no excuses.
“Both guys wrecked themselves,” Hamlin said. “There was a lane — he missed the corner, first. And, evidently, he didn’t have his right-side tires clean and when he gassed up, he just kept going again.
“You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence or lift and race it out.
“Those are the choices they made. I didn’t hit either one of ’em. Didn’t touch ’em.”
Larson was credited with finishing 20th. He and Hamlin are friends off the track, but that didn’t seem to make what happened on the track any easier.
“I mean it is what it is. Yeah, we’re friends. Yes, this makes things shitty and awkward. You know but, whatever. He’s always right,” Larson said. “All the buddies know, Denny’s always right. So, I’m sure he was in the right there, as well. But, it is what it is. I’m not going to let it tarnish a friendship on the track, but I am pissed.
“I feel like I should be pissed.”
He was then asked if maybe he needed to start racing Hamlin any different.
“At this point, I think I have to, right?” he said. “Like I said, I’ve never had to apologize to him about anything I’ve done on the racetrack. I can count four or five times where he’s had to reach out to me, ‘Oh, man, I’m sorry I put you in a bad spot there.’
“Eventually, like he says, you got to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back. I mean, he pulled the same move on Ross last year. Ross probably deserved it, right, with all the stuff he’s done to Denny in his career.
“Again, I haven’t done that to Denny. So I don’t think I deserve to be run into before I ever got to the wall. So just it is what it is. I’m going to go race a sprint car on Tuesday night. I’m going to forget about it here in a few hours. That’s the best medicine for a tough result.
“So look forward to getting in the 57 sprint car on Tuesday in Grandview, move on to Richmond.”
Joey Logano won Stage 1 after leading 21 laps but saw his race come to an end on lap 37 just after the restart to start Stage 2 in an accident involving Daniel Suarez.
Bell was able to rally back to finish sixth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was seventh. Harrison Burton, Erik Jones, and Chase Elliott completed the top 10.
The NASCAR Cup series heads to Richmond next Sunday where Kevin Harvick is the defending winner.
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