After a runner-up finish on Saturday, Denny Hamlin reversed his fortunes to win the second part of a NASCAR Cup Series weekend doubleheader.
It was auto racing deja vu all over again at Sunday’s Pocono 350. The second half of a NASCAR Cup Series weekend doubleheader, the first of its kind, featured the same top pair of finishers. Denny Hamlin, however, was glad to see the order reversed this time around.
Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team denied Kevin Harvick the opportunity of a weekend sweep, taking home the 350-mile event as dusk descended on Pocono Raceway. He would earn his series-best fourth win of 2020 and his sixth victory on the track known as “The Tricky Triangle”. Hamlin previously finished behind Harvick at a 325-mile event on Saturday afternoon at the Long Pond, Pennsylvania landmark.
Sunday’s win ties Hamlin with NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track.
Pocono played host to Hamlin’s first win during his rookie season in 2006. Hamlin’s Sunday drive was his 41st Cup Series victory, breaking a tie with Gordon’s fellow Charlotte inductee Mark Martin.
Shrewd pit strategy allowed Hamlin to earn the fateful win. Sunday’s race was paused after six laps due to inclement weather, pushing the latter portions to the twilight hours. Due to the lack of lights at Pocono, drivers were forced to race both each other and the setting sun.
Hamlin took the lead from Harvick when the latter pitted to top off on fuel on lap 105 of 140. Rather than immediately follow Harvick, Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart opted to run 15 extra laps to build a sizable advantage on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Hamlin was able to get service and emerge ahead of Harvick when he pitted with 20 laps remaining. He ran only behind his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. for six laps before the latter brought his own Toyota to pit road. Hamlin was thus able to coast to a victory won by over a three-second margin.
Harvick continues to lead the Cup Series points by a 52-point margin over runner-up Ryan Blaney as the circuit enters the second half of the regular season. He and Hamlin (who sits in fifth, 75 points behind) have combined to win 7 of the 15 races the 2020 season has had to offer thus far.
Another Gibbs entrant, the No. 20 Toyota of Erik Jones, finished a season-best third, while Chase Elliott and Harvick’s Stewart-Haas teammate Aric Almirola rounded out the top five.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday for a new Independence Day weekend tradition. For the first time, Indianapolis Motor Speedway finds itself in the coveted slot to host the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line (4 p.m. ET, NBC).
- Kyle Busch, winner of three prior Pocono events, saw his day end on a crash toward the end of the second, 55-lap stage after he and Blaney made contact while trying to avoid the slower of Garrett Smithley. Busch was visibly displeased in an interview with Fox Sports’ Jamie Little, declaring â€œI know what happened but it doesnâ€™t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.â€ The defending series champion, Busch sits 11th in the current standings but has yet to earn a Cup victory this season.
- Two drivers who impressed with strong runs on Saturday saw their Sunday end early in separate wrecks. Michael McDowell finished dead-last in 40th and rookie Christopher Bell finished only a spot ahead of him after respective crashes on laps 16 and 40. Bell was coming off his career-best fourth-place finish and came home third after the first stage. McDowell had finished eighth on Saturday, his first top-ten finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since November 2016.
- In addition to hosting the first Cup Series doubleheader (two races at the same locale on the same weekend), Pocono also hosted the first NASCAR tripleheader, in which each of the organization’s three national series raced on the same day at the same track. Brandon Jones took home his first Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win in the morning (winning a 150-mile event from Saturday) postponed due to weather) while Chase Briscoe held off Ross Chastain to win his fourth Xfinity Series races of the season.
- Brad Keselowski won the second stage of the race after Kurt Busch took home the first, 30-lap segment. They respectively finished 11th and 13th.
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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags