LONG POND, Pa. – Denny Hamlin survived some late-race contact and the ensuing restart to win his record seventh career NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. Finishing in the top five behind him were Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ty Gibbs.
This victory is Hamlin’s 50th in the Cup Series and Toyota’s 600th across all three NASCAR national series. Hamlin also has now surpassed Jeff Gordon in most Cup wins at Pocono with seven.
But What Really Happened?
Kyle Larson‘s crew chief Cliff Daniels sat in the garage after the race and watched his team load the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the hauler when a fan wearing a Hamlin shirt walked up to him and asked for an autograph.
Daniels politely obliged and, while signing, voiced a negative prediction against Hamlin’s championship bid.
Emotions were certainly high, and this time they may just stay that way.
Is anyone else getting a case of deja vu?
That’s right. Sunday (July 23) almost felt like an exact copy of Kansas Speedway back in May, didn’t it?
We have the same actors that caused controversy at the Midwestern track last time, and the same driver who came out on top. But back then, Larson still finished second, and both drivers agreed it was hard racing.
It was clear that Larson finished 21st on Sunday, his car heavily damaged, the feelings don’t appear to be so positive between the two friends this time.
In 2023, Larson has been the subject of many controversies, whether he likes it or not, and Pocono is only the latest example of a probable race win being taken away.
At the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race, Larson was involved in an incident with Ryan Preece. At Talladega Superspeedway, Larson had a terrifying crash that ripped the side panel off his car and penetrated the cockpit. At Dover Motor Speedway, Ross Chastain indirectly wrecked Larson via a JJ Yeley delivery system and tangled with Chastain again at Darlington Raceway while racing for the win. Of course, none of that is including the aforementioned clash between he and Hamlin at Kansas, either.
In other words? If there was a nickel for every time a media scrum was waiting for Larson on pit road after a race in 2023, there’d be a fistful of nickels. It’s not always Larson’s fault yet it’s so weird that it’s happened so many times.
What’s the fallout from this one? If you listened to Larson’s interview, the Californian claims he’ll likely get over it soon, and well, maybe he will.
But will Daniels? Will the rest of the No. 5 crew?
Larson made a great point. He could have 10 extra playoff points and two more wins if it weren’t for late-race skirmishes involving the No. 11 Toyota. Maybe Larson can zen himself away from racing his buddy more aggressively or even wrecking him, but the rest of his team works hard for those points, and watching from the sidelines on pit road while your hard work is ruined is no easy task.
They had to deal with it with Chastain twice, and now they’ve dealt with it for Hamlin twice. Daniels mentioned in his post-race interview that he still remembers Kansas.
There is a point where Larson has to start sticking up for his crew on the racetrack, and anybody that saw those Hendrick Motorsports crewmen loading up a damaged race car in that Pocono garage on Sunday could tell you that time is likely coming soon.
Who Stood Out?
If you’re not already talking about Hamlin for the incident with Larson, you should be talking about the many milestones his win reached.
First, there’s his 50th Cup Series win – a number the Virginian has been claiming to be a goal of his for some time now. With it, he now ties legendary drivers like Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time wins list.
Second, with his seventh win at The Tricky Triangle, Hamlin now has surpassed Gordon for the record of most Cup wins at Pocono. (If you ask him, he will claim he eight since he was disqualified last year.)
Finally, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has earned the 600th win for Toyota in a NASCAR national series event – a milestone he claimed he wanted on Saturday afternoon since he’s been around the longest with the manufacturer.
His performance certainly wasn’t the most dominating of the day. As a matter of fact, he only led nine laps. Polesitter William Byron led the race high of 60. However, Hamlin finished third and fourth in stages one and two, respectively, meaning the teal-colored No. 11 Toyota played pit strategy to perfection all day.
Controversy and hurt feelings aside, Hamlin was there racing for the lead at the end of the race, proving his Pocono prowess is still in play.
Who Fell Flat?
For the first stage, it was a near lights out lead for Joey Logano.
The Team Penske racer stole the lead from Byron early on lap 11. Shortly afterward, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson challenged the No. 22 for the top spot for a time but to no avail. Logano was able to easily cruise to a stage one win.
It was all downhill from there. In fact, it was more of a sharp cliff than a hill.
With strategy in play, many drivers stayed out during the stage caution period in exchange for track position. Logano restarted seven rows deep in the field as a result.
The No. 22 scattered alongside the rest of the field when the green flag dropped again in the beginning of stage two but remained in between three and four-wide cars. As the meat in the sandwich, all it took was one wrong move for Logano to get sent.
The reigning Cup champion couldn’t get the car back to pit road on his own, but his misfortunate end to the race isn’t what everyone’s talking about.
It’s instead his absolute verbal thrashing of a tow truck driver that didn’t tow him away.
Is it ugly? Is it justified? Is it just funny? That’s up to you. Either way, it highlights the frustration Logano must have felt for his day to be cut short so early.
Better Than Last Time?
Since when did Pocono become a short track?
Or at least as fun as one?
Last year, Pocono demonstrated again its ability to begin – or at least fuel – a rivalry as a result of contact while racing for the lead. That’s really nothing new when it comes to the Pennsylvania circuit.
What IS new is its ability to create a dozen rivalries in one afternoon.
There were only a handful of drivers that weren’t upset with somebody else by the end of the 400 miles ran on Sunday. Heck, even race winner Hamlin appeared to be miffed at the situation involving Larson.
Does that make it a good race? Not statistically. But it sure as hell was the most interesting Pocono race in recent memory.
And what better time to have it than in front of the largest Pocono crowd since 2010?
Paint Scheme of the Race
First thing’s first. There are a few good options this week.
On the sentimental side of things, Brad Keselowski‘s King’s Hawaiian No. 6 honored over 300 military veterans by featuring their names on his Ford this weekend. On the paint design side, it’s nothing new, but it’s for a good cause.
On the other hand, Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford featured a, well, Ford sponsorship. And they wanted to be sure everybody knew based on their giant font lettering.
However, the one that seemed to steal the show was yet another Jumpman brand-inspired No. 45 Toyota driven by Tyler Reddick.
It’s clash of green and white that not only stuck out like a sore thumb, but the design was a homage for the “H” Wings shoe, which was a tribute to Howard White, the Nike executive that worked with NBA legend Michael Jordan to bring the brand to life.
It was a neat homage to a legendary clothing brand, just another addition to the Jumpman design collection of diecasts that will be sought after by fans this summer.
The sport returns to The Action Track.
The Cup Series returns to Richmond Raceway for its second trip to the Virginian short track. Qualifying for the Cook Out 400 will be live on Saturday, July 29 at 1:20 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, July 30 at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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