After a flurry of late cautions and subsequent restart attempts, Denny Hamlin was able to hold off 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick Sunday afternoon in Long Pond, Pa., as Hamlin captured his second checkered flag of the season, seventh at Pocono and 50th of his career in his 18th full-time season.
The race ended under caution as Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Preece spun in Turn 2 and couldn’t re-fire his engine on the white flag.
Despite the historic afternoon, Hamlin was greeted with a chorus of boos from the Pocono crowd postrace after tussling on-track with Stage 2 winner Kyle Larson on Lap 154 of 160. Hamlin pushed Larson wide in Turn 1 – akin to what Hamlin did to Ross Chastain last year at this same track – sending the Hendrick Motorsports driver into the wall.
In Turn 2 on the same lap, Justin Haley hit driver-side into the outside wall to bring out the yellow flag. Haley was checked and released from the infield care center. During the caution period, Larson retaliated with a slight bump to Hamlin on the frontstretch before the final restart and finished 20th.
Before the incident with Larson, Hamlin had a separate run-in with Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman in Turn 3 five laps earlier. Although the drivers didn’t touch, Bowman got loose in front of Hamlin and spun into the fence. Bowman finished 24th and now sits 46 points outside the Playoffs.
“Both guys wrecked themselves,” an unapologetic Hamlin said of the Hendrick duo. “There was a lane. He (Larson) missed the corner first and evidently, he didn’t have his right-side tires cleaned and when he gassed up, he kept going again.
“You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence, or lift and race it out, but those are choices they made. I didn’t hit either one of them – didn’t touch them.”
Larson had a predictably different point of view:
“I’ve been cost a lot of good finishes by (Hamlin) throughout my career. I know he says I race a certain way, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to apologize to him about anything. Not that I’m sure he’s (going to) say sorry after this.”
Before their day went awry, Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels had the strategy call of the race as they took two tires on what figured to be the final round of pit stops on Lap 120 before the rash of late cautions. The move propelled the No. 5 team to the lead in front of Hamlin, and it stayed that way until Ty Dillon spun Chase Briscoe in Turn 3 on Lap 143. Larson led 24 laps to Hamlin’s nine.
Martin Truex Jr. followed up his New Hampshire triumph with a third-place finish for his sixth top-five in the last eight races. Kevin Harvick was fourth followed by Ty Gibbs in fifth – the best finish of the 20-year-old’s young Cup career.
Christopher Bell was sixth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seventh, and Harrison Burton, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott completed the top-10.
Joey Logano won Stage 1 and led 21 laps before crashing on the Stage 2 restart after contact with both Reddick and Michael McDowell. Daniel Suárez was also involved in the wreck and finished one spot behind Logano in 36th.
Austin Dillon was another driver who left Pennsylvania unsatisfied. The 34th place finisher launched his helmet at Reddick’s car after he felt Reddick purposefully wrecked him on Lap 106. Replay appeared to show that the driver of the No. 3 came down the track into Reddick entering Turn 1 and took himself out of contention.
Truex Jr. increased his points lead to 30 over William Byron. Byron started on pole and led a race-high 60 laps but finished 14th.
McDowell now holds a 17-point edge over AJ Allmendinger for the 16th and final Playoff spot. Suárez is 23 points back in 18th.
The Cup Series heads to Richmond Raceway next Sunday for the Cook Out 400. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.
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