LONG POND, Pa. – With darkness encroaching upon Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin used a pit strategy call to take the race lead and earn his fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season Sunday evening.
Hamlin’s victory denied Kevin Harvick the opportunity to sweep the weekend at Pocono Raceway as the NASCAR Cup Series raced at the same venue on consecutive days for the first time in NASCAR’s modern era.
It was a role reversal from Saturday’s race at Pocono Raceway, with Hamlin and his crew chief Chris Gabehart one-upping Harvick via strategy. One day ago it was the other way around, with Harvick and his crew chief, Rodney Childers, out-strategizing Hamlin and Gabehart to win.
Harvick was the race leader when he pitted for the final time as the field came to 35 laps to go. That gave Hamlin the race lead and with Gabehart calling the shots, Hamlin used clear race track to set fast lap after fast lap in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Harvick, meanwhile, pitted for two tires and fuel and came back on track approximately 29 seconds behind Hamlin.
Hamlin stayed on track for an additional 15 laps before finally making his final pit stop coming to 20 laps left and like Harvick he took two tires and enough fuel to get him to the checkered flag.
“I knew what bed we were making there,” Hamlin said. “I knew that I was running a fast enough lap time out there on old tires that he was going to keep me out there.”
It was here where Hamlin’s clean laps at the front of the field proved vital. As Hamlin blended back up onto the track, he found himself roughly a second ahead of Harvick once he was up to speed.
The pit stop cycle was complete five laps later when Hamlin’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. hit pit road, cycling Hamlin back to the top of the scoring pylon. Hamlin worked traffic flawlessly from there, easing to a 3.068-second victory at the 2.5-mile speedway.
“I was just hoping for no cautions, I knew we had the car,” said Hamlin after his 41st NASCAR Cup Series victory. “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.”
Sunday’s win at Pocono Raceway moved Hamlin into a tie with Jeff Gordon for the most NASCAR Cup Series wins at the track with six. Hamlin won in his first two starts at Pocono Raceway in 2006 and added three more wins in ’09, ’10 and ’19 prior to Sunday’s win.
“I think that’s the most wins I’ve got at any track now. It’s hard to believe because we went through such a dry spell kind of in the middle of my career,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think this is it, I don’t think this will be the last one. Just the way we’re going and the way things are going with us right now. Where I feel like I’m at in my career, hopefully we can continue to build on it.”
Harvick said it all came down to Hamlin’s ability to run clean laps with no traffic prior to his pit stop, whereas Harvick found himself stuck in traffic following his pit stop.
“Our car was actually better today than it was yesterday,” Harvick said. “The way that the end worked out we had to run in a lot of traffic there and Denny kept clicking off laps. They did what they had to do and just did the opposite of what we did as far as when we pitted. We lost time going through that traffic and just came out behind him and wound up second today.”
Erik Jones finished third after crashing out of Saturday’s race and finishing 38th. Chase Elliott was fourth, with Aric Almirola finishing fifth to earn his fourth-straight top-five finish in NASCAR Cup Series competition.
Sunday’s race nearly didn’t run the full 140-lap distance. As the field was about to take the green flag a lightning strike within eight miles of the track led to a 30-minute delay. Once the race finally got underway a rain storm moved in over the track, leading to a red flag and 50 minute delay.
That, combined with multiple caution periods during the early and middle portions of the race, nearly forced NASCAR to bring an early end to the race. However, with no cautions slowing the race during the final stage, the race was able to run to completion as the sun was beginning to set over the speedway.
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