The Sun Sets on NASCAR’s Pocono Weekend with Tripleheader and a Hamlin Win

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 28: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 28, 2020 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Well NASCAR did it.  For the first time in its history the sport held a tripleheader on the same day at the same track.  While tripleheaders had happened four times prior, those races were not on the same track.  Sunday, NASCAR staged a Gander Outdoors Truck series race, followed by an Xfinity series race capped off with a Cup series race at Pocono.

The end came a little after sunset local time as Denny Hamlin beat Kevin Harvick by just over 3 seconds for his fourth win of the season and came a day after he had finished second to Harvick at the same track just a day before.  The Sunday tripleheader came on a weekend that was originally supposed to be only a doubleheader weekend for the Cup series.

While the first Cup race went off without a hitch Saturday, the earlier Truck series race had to be postponed due to weather.  The Cup race was delayed by rain Saturday afternoon but was eventually able to run its scheduled distance.

The rescheduled Truck race started Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. and was won by Brandon Jones.  The Xfinity race followed at 12:30 p.m. with Chase Briscoe taking the win.

The Cup series was scheduled to take the green flag just after 4:30 p.m. But while weather wasn’t an issue for the first two races on the day, a nearby storm produced a bolt of lightning within NASCAR’s 8-mile safety zone forcing the cars to stop on pit road for 30 minutes.  Once they tried to restart a rain shower moved over the track and forced a second red flag of 50 minutes.

Once the race finally got the green flag, the only issue became the encroaching darkness. Pocono Raceway has no lights and with 8 cautions in the first 89 laps the issue of ending early due to impending darkness became an issue. The last 51 laps Sunday however were run under green.

Harvick won Saturday’s race using pit strategy late in the going. Sunday, it was Hamlin’s turn.  Harvick made his final pit stop under green on lap 105. Hamlin built a separation of over 30 seconds by the time he pitted on lap 119. He was able to take fuel and two tires and come out ahead of Harvick and into second behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.  Truex pitted with 15 laps to go handing the lead to Hamlin who ended up leading a race high 49 laps on the day.  The strategy called by his crew chief would end up scoring Hamlin his sixth Pocono win, tying him with Jeff Gordon.

“He’s (Chris Gabehart, crew chief) just unbelievable,” Hamlin said. “He’s done a great job with this race team. This is work that happens in the shop, this is way beyond what happens on race day. Can’t say enough for FedEx, Toyota, Coca-Cola, the Jordan Brand. I mean six (career wins at Pocono), I can’t even put it into words, how much it means to me.”

Like Hamlin the day before, Harvick reported a possible loose wheel in the final laps and came up short holding on to second.  Erik Hones, Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola completed the top five.

“I was just hoping for no cautions,” Hamlin said about the closing laps. “I knew we had the car. I was just maintaining my gap right there and didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and threw that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic as best I could and obviously Chris (Gabehart) is paying attention to strategy there and made the right call.”

Even though he came up short of the win, Harvick felt he had a better setup in his Ford than he had on Saturday when he won.

“He (Hamlin) just did the opposite of what we did,” Harvick said. “We didn’t want to get caught with a caution and then wound up losing a little bit too much time in lapped traffic with all the cars that hadn’t pitted.

“He was out there running clean laps and waited till right to the very end (to pit) and wound up in front of us. I’m proud of everybody on our team. Yesterday, (strategy) won us the race, and today we finished second.”

The top 20 finishers from Saturday were inverted giving the pole to Ryan Preece. Due to an overnight engine change, Preece was forced to fall to the rear of the field before the start.  That gave the front row to Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon. Busch would jump to the lead at the start and he would go on to lead 35 laps and win Stage 1.

With varying pit strategies and a spate of cautions, the top 10 were scrambled on several occasions. Brad Keselowski won the second stage which ended at lap 85 but finished the day outside the top 10 in 11th.

Many among the late front runners were getting on late cautions to have enough fuel to make the distance. Most of them fell by the wayside in the closing laps leaving the battle down to Hamlin and Harvick.

Matt DiBenedetto was sixth, William Byron seventh, Clint Bowyer was eighth after a fierce door banging battle coming to the line with ninth place finisher Alex Bowman, while Truex was able to rally back to finish 10th.

Ryan Blaney led 21 laps early but faded in the final stage and got together with Kyle Busch on lap 76 while both were battling in 21st.  Busch’s Toyota was sent hard into the wall and he finished in the garage in 38th, Blaney held on to finish 22.

“The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today,” said Busch, who finished fifth on Saturday but never contended for the win. “I guess it proves that, if you get a little practice time in, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with, so hopefully life gets back to normal eventually.

“But we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&M’s Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. It’s just very frustrating and unfortunate. I know what happened, but it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.”

NASCAR heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway weekend. The Xfinity series will race on the famed Indy road course on Saturday as part of an historic doubleheader with the IndyCar series, as the Cup series will race on the 2.5-mile oval on Sunday.

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Pocono 350

Pocono Raceway

Long Pond, Pennsylvania

Sunday, June 28, 2020

1. (19)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 140.

2. (20)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 140.

3. (38)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 140.

4. (25)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 140.

5. (18)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 140.

6. (8)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 140.

7. (7)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 140.

8. (14)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 140.

9. (27)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 140.

10. (15)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 140.

11. (12)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 140.

12. (10)  Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 140.

13. (3)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 140.

14. (2)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 140.

15. (4)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 140.

16. (21)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 140.

17. (5)  Cole Custer #, Ford, 140.

18. (6)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 139.

19. (24)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 139.

20. (22)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 139.

21. (23)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 139.

22. (9)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 139.

23. (26)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 139.

24. (36)  Joey Logano, Ford, 139.

25. (1)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 139.

26. (28)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 139.

27. (29)  Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 138.

28. (31)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 138.

29. (35)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 137.

30. (34)  James Davison, Chevrolet, 136.

31. (40)  Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 136.

32. (33)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 136.

33. (37)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, 136.

34. (32)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 136.

35. (30)  Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 135.

36. (11)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 135.

37. (39)  BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 133.

38. (16)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 74.

39. (17)  Christopher Bell #, Toyota, Accident, 39.

40. (13)  Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 15.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  122.879 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 50 Mins, 54 Secs. Margin of Victory:  3.068 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 32 laps.

Lead Changes:  12 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   R. Preece 0;K. Busch 1-35;R. Blaney 36-56;K. Busch 57-58;D. Hamlin 59-76;K. Harvick 77;B. Keselowski 78-79;A. Almirola 80-83;B. Keselowski 84-94;K. Harvick 95-104;D. Hamlin 105-120;M. Truex Jr. 121-125;D. Hamlin 126-140.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin 3 times for 49 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 35 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 21 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 13 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 11 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 4 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 2 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 1,12,95,4,2,21,17,19,18,41

Stage #2 Top Ten: 2,10,6,19,47,4,3,1,21,11

Greg Engle