top of page
  • Writer's pictureSports Speak

Deja Vu? Denny Hamlin Wins Classic at Pocono After Late-Race Squabble with Kyle Larson




BY: EDDIE KALEGI


On an afternoon marked by diverse pit strategies, wild restarts, and raging tempers, it was the favorite who prevailed. Drama with multiple Hendrick Motorsports drivers could not stop Denny Hamlin, who earned his 50th career NASCAR Cup Series win in the High Point 400 at Pocono Raceway. The victory was his seventh at the Tricky Triangle, breaking a tie with Jeff Gordon for the most in the track's history, and also the 600th NASCAR win for Toyota as a manufacturer.


Warming temperatures and bright sunshine set up the first rain-free Cup Series raceday since Nashville last month. Electing the outside lane on the initial start, pole sitter and championship leader William Byron set sail, pulling his Raptor Chevrolet in front of the red-hot Martin Truex Jr. to take the early lead.


The Next Gen cars were difficult to handle all weekend, with drivers like Chase Elliott and Todd Gilliland crashing in qualifying, and others like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. expressing worry about handling in the tunnel turn. That trend would continue on lap 5, as Rick Ware Racing's J.J. Yeley lost control out of turn two, spinning down the track and catching the inside wall.


The inside lane would prevail on the subsequent restart. Truex opted to follow Byron to the outside, leaving the inside of the front row open for Joey Logano, who took full advantage and cleared to the lead in the tunnel turn. The restart shuffled Byron to third and Truex to fifth.


Kyle Larson put the pressure on Logano throughout the 30-lap opening stage, but to no avail. However, pit strategy, which was prominent in yesterday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, was prominent yet again. Kyle Busch opened the floodgates, while Larson, Byron, Harvick, Bell, and others pitted under green. Logano stayed on the track to win the opening stage, ahead of three Toyotas. Interestingly, playoff bubble drivers AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, and Bubba Wallace all stayed out until the end of the stage to gain valuable points, placing fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively.


Byron and Larson cycled back to the front to begin the second stage, with Logano buried in 17th. That proved costly. Logano was hooked going into turn one on the restart after a big push from Michael McDowell, spinning into the wall, also collecting Daniel Suarez. The crash would end both of their races.


"There is nobody to blame but ourselves," Suarez said. "We shouldn't have been racing in the back."


Subsequent restarts saw a pair of spins, as Austin Dillon slid through turn one after contact with BJ McLeod, before Kyle Larson spun from second place, tagging the outside wall but still continuing on the lead lap.


A lengthy green flag run commenced at lap 51, with Byron leading the race over Ryan Blaney and rookie Ty Gibbs. Differing pit strategies caused a spaced out green flag pit cycle, with Byron getting service at lap 78.


Kyle Larson had cycled back to the lead after spinning, and lucked out in a big way, as Christopher Bell went around just seconds before Larson was set to pull into the pits. An eventful stage that began with a spin ended with a win, with Ty Dillon, a multi-time Cup Series stage winner, also playing the strategy game and placing a season-best second.


Despite the awkward timing of the caution, pit strategy was still a factor entering stage three. The top 15 cars, led by William Byron, had last pitted between laps 77 and 80, while Larson, Hamlin, Reddick, and others cycled behind after pitting under the stage caution.


Byron would lose the lead again despite restarting on the preferred outside line to start stage 3, this time to Ryan Blaney, with Martin Truex Jr. following through to take second place. Just two laps later though, Ryan Blaney would have a driveshaft issue, falling out of the top ten and being forced to pit.


Ex-teammates would tangle soon after, as Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon came together, sending the current Richard Childress Racing driver hard into the outside wall off the bumper of the former. Dillon wasn't pleased, throwing his helmet at Reddick's car as the field passed by. When asked how he'll handle the incident going forwards, Dillon didn't hold back. "I just need to start wrecking people."


The last green flag pit cycle opened with under 35 laps to go, with differing strategies across the board. Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin took two tires, while Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman opted for four. But contact between Ty Dillon and Chase Briscoe sent the High Point Ford around, bringing out the yellow with just 17 laps left.


All four of the aforementioned key leaders stayed out, and Larson got a huge push from Truex to clear to the lead with 13 to go. While Truex was reeling in the 5 car, Alex Bowman got aero loose just in front of Denny Hamlin, two drivers who have some very recent history on the racetrack. Bowman spun, bringing out the caution coming to 10 to go.


This would not be Hamlin's only incident with a member of the Hendrick stable. On the ensuing restart, Hamlin got a remarkable run, passing Truex and getting underneath Larson entering turn one. In a move that eerily resembled Hamlin's encounter with Ross Chastain at the track last year, Hamlin drove Larson up the track, sending Larson into the wall. Hamlin would use IndyCar-type tactics to attempt to break the draft down the back straightaway, but a caution flag would fly for a Justin Haley spin. As the cars came back around, the 2021 Cup Series champion showed his displeasure with Hamlin, making contact with the 11 as they crossed the start finish line.


"I got used up," a dejected Larson said after the race. He noted that this isn't the first time. "We've had a handful of run-ins, but I've never had to reach out and apologize."


Hamlin had a different view, saying "it's not true. We've not had run-ins... When it comes to getting 50 for me, 600 for Toyota, I'm going to make sure that I drive as hard as I possibly can."


The race would go back green with three laps to go, with the Toyotas of Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. sharing the front row. Larson's damaged Chevrolet began to fade, and he ultimately came home 21st. As was the case with Austin Hill in Saturday's Xfinity Series race, older tires would prevail, as Hamlin drove away from the Toyotas of Truex and Tyler Reddick.


A controversial officiating call brought the race to a close, as Ryan Preece spun exiting the tunnel turn near the inside wall as the leaders came to the white flag. NASCAR waited to throw the caution until the leaders were on the backstretch for the final time, as Preece's Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was stopped just below the racing line. The delayed yellow costed Reddick second place, while Denny Hamlin crossed the line to take the trophy, accompanied by some raucous boos, about which Hamlin later said he was "too old to care."





The victory makes Hamlin the fifth multi-time winner of the 2023 season, joining Larson, Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and William Byron. Kevin Harvick came home fourth in his final Pocono Raceway start, while rookie Ty Gibbs finished fifth, one of four Toyotas to finish in the top five.


"One thing I appreciate about NASCAR is it's extremely hard," Joe Gibbs said, as his team notched their sixth win of 2023. "It's unlike any other sport. You have to get four teams working together, and so far our guys have got a good chemistry and they understand that working with four teams is the way to solve problems."


As for their best car today, the winner Denny Hamlin, reaching these landmark milestones, now tying for thirteenth on NASCAR's all-time wins list was quite the signature moment.


"To get my 50th win at the track where I got my first, it certainly is special."




The season will continue next weekend with the fourth of six short track races of the season at Richmond Raceway. Kyle Larson will have a prime chance for redemption at a track where he won at back in April, with Josh Berry finishing a career-best second while filling in for the injured Chase Elliott.


We at Motorsports Today would like to thank you for tuning in for our coverage of the NASCAR Pocono Raceway race weekend. We hope to be back at the track soon! Stay tuned for a special content-filled Spotify-exclusive episode recapping the weekend on Monday, and a full episode on WRSU this Friday at 12:00 p.m.


. . .


19 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page