The fifth time was a charm for Kevin Harvick. After compiling a record of four second place finishes at Pocono Raceway, Harvick held off a hard charging Denny Hamlin to score his first career win at the 2.5-mile speedway Saturday.
“We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position,” Harvick said in front of an empty grandstand. “But we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps. It is great to finally check Pocono off the list. “
It was the third win of the season for Harvick who becomes the second driver in NASCAR’s COVID-19 odd season to score three victories. The first driver, ironically, was Saturday’s second place finisher Hamlin.
The race was part of an historic doubleheader weekend for NASCAR and almost didn’t happen. The earlier NASCAR Trucks race had to be postponed to Sunday due to heavy rain in the morning and early afternoon, and for a time it appeared that the Cup race might fall victim to the weather. But after a delay of just over an hour, and several pace laps by the field to finish drying the track, the race was able to go green and complete all 130 of the scheduled laps.
Aric Almirola led from pole, awarded by virtue of a blind draw, and led most of the first stage giving up the lead to pit just before the first stage ended on lap 25. Joey Logano would win the first Stage, but Almirola was soon back in control and won Stage 2 which ended on lap 77. Logano would finish second.
Almirola would go on to lead a race high 61 laps, but pit strategy in the closing laps spoiled his chances for victory. The leaders began to pit under green on lap 91 including Almirola and Harvick. Harvick was able to beat Almirola off pit road with a two tire stop while Almirola took four tires.
When the green flag stops cycled through on lap 113, Harvick had the lead with Hamlin second, and Almirola third.
“We opted to score a lot of points (in the stages), and that probably hurt us on strategy a little bit, but I’m really proud of Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and these (crew) guys,” said Almirola, who also finished third last Sunday at Talladega.
“They’ve been bringing some awesome race cars. I felt like we were tit-for-tat there with the 4 (Harvick) when we were on older tires and in clean air… We’re trying to keep the momentum going—three top fives in a row. I’m really proud of my race team.”
In the final laps Harvick’s lead grew to as much as two seconds and Hamlin was reporting a vibration.
Hamlin, however, was able to close the gap forcing Harvick to defend his position in the final five laps and in the end hold off Hamlin to win his 52nd career victory by .761 of a second.
“With about 15 or 20 (laps) to go, the vibration just got really, really bad,” Hamlin said. “It still would have been tough to pass. Even though we got there, it would have been tough to get around him.”
Harvick has now won at every track on the circuit except for Kentucky Speedway and Charlotte’s ROVAL.
“I knew when we came out of the pits and they told me how big of a lead we had,” Harvick said. “I saw the 11 come out of the pits and he was in second. I knew that the tire gap was going to be a little less. He caught us a little in traffic, but I knew I could be pretty patient with the gap we had. As I started to see everything cycle out and see with the track position we had with the fresher tires you could kind of start to put it together in your mind as we started to run through the last stage and cars started to have to pit. Just a great call by (crew chief) Rodney Childers.”
Behind Almirola, Christopher Bell was fourth with Kyle Busch fifth.
Logano who had won Stage 1 suffered a flat tire in the closing laps was forced to pit and finished 36th.
The fight for the 20th position drew a lot of attention as the top 20 finishers will inverted for Sunday’s race. Ryan Preece was able to hold off Jimmie Johnson and will lead the field to the green Sunday, Austin Dillon (who finished 19th) will start beside him on the front row.
Martin Truex Jr. who led 14 laps was sixth, Clint Bowyer seventh, with Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher rounding out the top 10.
The second race of the double header will take the green flag just after 4:00PM Sunday after the rescheduled Truck race and the NASCAR Xfinity race with the Cup drivers in the same cars they raced Saturday. If it happens it will mark the first time all three of NASCAR’s top touring series have raced on the same track on the same day.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Pocono Organics 325 in partnership with Rodale Institute
Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Saturday, June 27, 2020
1. (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 130.
2. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 130.
3. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, 130.
4. (36) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 130.
5. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 130.
6. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 130.
7. (18) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 130.
8. (26) Michael McDowell, Ford, 130.
9. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 130.
10. (24) Chris Buescher, Ford, 130.
11. (22) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 130.
12. (2) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 130.
13. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 130.
14. (16) William Byron, Chevrolet, 130.
15. (13) Ryan Newman, Ford, 130.
16. (25) Cole Custer #, Ford, 130.
17. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 130.
18. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 130.
19. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 130.
20. (30) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 130.
21. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 130.
22. (23) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 129.
23. (29) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 129.
24. (20) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 129.
25. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 129.
26. (34) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 129.
27. (10) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 129.
28. (37) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 128.
29. (27) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 127.
30. (15) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 126.
31. (33) JJ Yeley, Ford, 125.
32. (40) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 125.
33. (31) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 125.
34. (35) James Davison, Chevrolet, 125.
35. (38) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 125.
36. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 124.
37. (28) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 121.
38. (19) Erik Jones, Toyota, Accident, 70.
39. (39) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, Transmission, 36.
40. (32) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, Accident, 19.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 134.467 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 25 Mins, 1 Secs. Margin of Victory: .761 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 21 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 1-19;J. Logano 20-30;A. Almirola 31-45;M. Truex Jr. 46-59;D. Hamlin 60-66;A. Almirola 67-93;D. Hamlin 94-96;R. Newman 97-109;M. McDowell 110;C. Buescher 111-113;K. Harvick 114-130.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Aric Almirola 3 times for 61 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 17 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 14 laps; Ryan Newman 1 time for 13 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 11 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 10 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 3 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,10,12,18,9,1,21,2,88,20
Stage #2 Top Ten: 10,22,19,12,21,88,4,18,11,9