After finishing second in the Saturday race at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin said he didn’t need anything different going into Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver confidently stated he had a race-winning car that had come up one spot short.
Sunday, Hamlin backed up his statement.
Crew chief Chris Gabehart nailed his strategy play first by keeping Hamlin on track and having him run hard to gap Kevin Harvick. Harvick had pitted from the race lead with 36 laps to go, which gave the top spot to Hamlin. Gabehart didn’t have Hamlin hit pit road for the final time until there were 21 laps left.
With the gap Hamlin had put on the field, even taking the time to get two tires still cycled him ahead of Harvick on track. When the rest of the frontrunners made their pit stops, Hamlin inherited the race lead back with 16 laps to go and never looked back with his margin of victory three seconds.
“He’s (Gabehart) just unbelievable,” said Hamlin. “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, I can’t even put it into words, how much it means to me.”
Six is the number of wins Hamlin now has at Pocono, which ties him with Jeff Gordon for the most wins by a Cup Series driver at the track. It is the 41st victory of Hamlin’s career and fourth of the season.
Harvick, who won yesterday’s race, finished second. His pit strategy was hindered by traffic, and Harvick also thought he had a loose wheel as the laps wound down.
“I think for us, our Head for the Mountains Busch Beer Ford was actually better than yesterday,” said Harvick. “We had a really good car, he just did the opposite of what we did. We didn’t want to get caught with a caution and then wound up losing a little bit too much time in lapped traffic when all the cars that hadn’t pitted, and he was out there running clean laps and waited until the very end (to pit) and wound up in front us. Proud of everybody on our team yesterday that won us the race, and today finished second.”
Erik Jones finished third with Chase Elliott fourth. Aric Almirola completed the top five.
Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth. William Byron was seventh while Clint Bowyer and Alex Bowman traded paint coming to the finish line, finishing eighth and ninth. Martin Truex Jr. finished 10th.
Brad Keselowski finished 11th. Keselowski was running third when he ran out of fuel and had to pit with three laps to go. Keselowski was the winner of the second stage.
Stage 1 was won by Kurt Busch, who led the opening 30 laps. Busch started on the front row after pole-sitter Ryan Preece had to drop to the rear of the field because of an engine change. Busch led a total of 35 laps, which was second-most to Hamlin, and finished 13th.
Ryan Blaney also led laps, 21, but finished 22nd. Blaney appeared to fade after contact with Kyle Busch through the tunnel turn, which ended Busch’s day and damaged the right front fender of Blaney’s Ford Mustang.
The Pocono 350 last just under three hours and battled losing daylight because of a lightning hold before the race started, and then a rain flag for rain on lap 4. There were eight lead changes among 12 drivers.
While Harvick continues to lead the point standings, Hamlin continues to lead the series in playoff points.
“Working to keep getting better and keep getting faster race car and giving me a bigger box to work in,” said Hamlin of his team at this point in the season. “If we don’t have the exact right setup or the handling isn’t perfect, we’re still going out there and winning races because we have decent car speed. We’re just continuing to make ourselves a little bit better, and it’s making that room for error just a little bit bigger.”