Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Pocono: It Isn’t Over Between Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson

What Happened?

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.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin Takes Controversial Pocono Win

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?

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin Takes Controversial Pocono Win

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.

What’s Next?

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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18 Comments
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Echo

Controversies, let’s start with Hamlin intentionally running cars into the wall all year long. Name me one time Larson has wrecked someone intentionally. You can’t do it. He is confident in his ability to beat anyone fair and square. Hamlin has raced dirty his whole career. Watch Larson in a dirt car, he’s not one to wreck someone intentionally. But now he might just have to stand up for his team, owner, and sponsor. No doubt in my mind that he can’t do it to Denny every single time they are around each other because Larson is the better driver by far. I hope he does it, again and again, but I don’t think it’s in his nature.

Kurt Smith

If I’m Larson, I may get suspended but Denny never wins a championship. Any final race where he’s in contention they will be hauling a completely destroyed #11 to the garage.

Last edited 9 months ago by Kurt Smith
Echo

Hamlin is a scumbag, always has been .

Bill B

I hope someone sends Hamlin into the wall (but I wish that every week). I hate that F-er. He is the number one “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrite. I can’t wait for him to retire or get a Kurt Busch type injury that forces him to end his career.

Last edited 9 months ago by Bill B
Jeremy

You’d have thought having his back broken by (I’m pretty sure it was Logano?) during a wreck that was clearly pay-back for his antics would have adjusted his attitude a little. Guess not.

Kurt Smith

Chase Elliott I think you’re thinking of. I believe Elliott took out Hamlin at Kansas as a payback for Martinsville.

Jeremy

Chase wrecked him too, but (thanks to Google) it was Logano in March 2013 at the Auto Club 400 that wrecked Hamlin – resulting in a compression fracture in his back.

sdelfin

Chase got his payback on Hamlin two races after in Phoenix in 2017. He ran him up high, kind of like what Denny did to Kyle here, though Denny deserved it. But my favorite thing about it is that Denny screwed himself twice in that deal. The first was just doing that to Chase so that payback was coming. But the second way is that dummy decided to race Chase hard at Phoenix instead of letting him by when Chase was clearly faster. Chase had to win the race to knock Denny out of the final four which hardly a foregone conclusion. And as Chase’s car tightened up and didn’t win, Denny would have made the championship four had he not raced Chase stupidly two weeks after straight up wrecking him. But Denny has a way of throwing his championship hopes away.

Mike

Im sure you notice that hamlin does not mess with logano. Now we remember why.

janice

i’ve always thought hamlin doens’t look very cleared eye when he’s being interviewed. but then that’s my opinion. he’s had some hits over the years.

but wait……just read where gibbs wants him to drive for no other owner until hamlin hangs up the helmet for good.

gbvette

I wasn’t broken hearted to see Logano out (the only driver I like less is Hamblin), but there’s no reason to be tearing cars up just by towing them. How difficult would it be, and how much extra time would it take to put a pair of dolly wheels under the front tires, before towing the car from the rear?

Kurt Smith

There are guys like Larson and Truex who race aggressive and clean and win and seem like genuinely nice guys. There are guys like Ross Chastain who overdo it sometimes and apologize afterward. And there are the Denny Hamlins of the world who wreck guys to win races and then have a “don’t you know who I am?” attitude about it. As if his never winning a title somehow entitles him.

One of the reasons Dale Earnhardt Sr. was despised by a lot of people (and believe me, he was), was because he wrecked drivers to win. I think he was one of the all time greats, but I still rooted for him to crash every week.

I don’t think Larson is going to take this crap forever. He’s had a lot of drivers take him out of races he could have won this year by being idiots. Chase Elliott didn’t take Hamlin’s s***, and I think Larson has had enough too.

Last edited 9 months ago by Kurt Smith
Rob

Let’s also mention NA$CAR and their consistent inconsistency – a spin early in the race brings out a caution while the the car was still in motion. It didn’t hit anything, and didn’t involve any other cars. A spin coming to the white flag and they waited and waited and then HAD to throw the caution. If they had been as quick on the trigger as they were the first time, there would have been an overtime finish. But they waited and they got a finish under yellow. It may not have changed anything, but still. Then we get the announcers saying ‘It’s a big race track, maybe they couldn’t see the spin’. Really? They could sure see the first one…

RCFX1

Exactly! Everyone is so hung up on Hamlin/Larson that they’re not paying attention to what a mess those last two laps were. They gave Denny that win.

janice

i thought the same thing with that last wreck. it wouldn’t had changed anything, hamlin was leading with white flag showing, but let’s tear up some more race cars.

i guess toyota wanted to get their whatever number win it was in the series yesterday.

Shayne

I don’t care if Hamlin wrecks other drivers. I don’t care if he wins every race before the finale. I just pray to God this thick-headed scumbag never wins a Cup championship.

Here we have a Cup team owner taking out the competition. His team (23XI) benefits by gaining positions if they’re still on the track. Intentional or not, it’s a conflict of interest and shouldn’t be tolerated by NASCAR.

Let’s hope Denny stays consistent and chokes again during the playoffs. Let’s hope other drivers send him a clear message and end his day as needed.

Boys, have at him.

DoninAjax

I’m pretty sure some time in the last 24 hours Denny, the Legend In His Own Mind, has stated “I deserved that win!” “I earned that win!” “I did whatever I had to to get that win!”

Old School

Just another example of a contender getting “Gibbs’ed”. Except for Truex, they have all done it. Joe’s rookie is driving the same way.

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