Denny Hamlin in victory lane at Pocono Raceway to earn his 50th career win. (David Moulthrop Photo)

Hamlin Surges To 50th Career Win Amidst A Shower Of Pocono Boos

LONG POND, Pa. — Denny Hamlin didn’t make many new fans after Sunday’s HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway. While the Joe Gibbs Racing driver scored a monumental 50th career NASCAR Cup Series win, his late-race move on Kyle Larson is what most will remember.

A restart with six laps to go saw front row starter Martin Truex Jr. stumble at the drop of the green flag, allowing Hamlin to shoot from the second row to alongside Larson’s door in turn one. 

Racing side-by-side, Hamlin squeezed Larson into the wall off turn one. That shut down Larson’s momentum, allowing Hamlin to get the advantage. A caution for Justin Haley brought out the final yellow flag. 

Under caution, Larson doored the driver’s side of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota, showing his displeasure of the move. 

Hamlin on track at Pocono Raceway. (David Moulthrop Photo)

Hamlin survived the following restart to score a record-setting seventh victory at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track. The win allowed Hamlin to surpass Jeff Gordon for the most Pocono wins all-time. 

“I pushed him all the way into turn one. I don’t know if he didn’t have his tires clean and then he washed up the race track,” Hamlin said. “We got side-by-side, and he chose not to lift. It’s just one of those things when you are on the outside the aerodynamics position, I didn’t touch him. He just made the decision not to lift.”

It was also Toyota Racing’s 600th win in NASCAR’s top three series. 

“It just means so much,” Hamlin said. “I’ve got to thank the partners Mavis, Toyota, TRD, FedEx, Sport Clips, Coca-Cola, Interstate Batteries, Jordan Brand, Shady Rays and Logitech – they are the ones that make this possible. This team right here. They’ve just done a phenomenal job on pit road, the strategy guys in the war room, the guys on the top of the pit box – Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) and his team, they are the ones that got me those wins.”

Despite the accomplishments for Hamlin and Toyota, the 42-year-old was showered by a thunderous roar of boos in a sold-out grandstands as Hamlin celebrated on the frontstretch.

Larson’s Frustration 

As Hamlin soaked up the fans displeasure, Larson voiced his frustration with Hamlin after finishing 20th. 

“Just unfortunate, I feel like we’ve had a handful of run-ins. I’ve never had to reach out to apologize. He’s always been the one that’s reached out to me and been like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry, I messed up there a little bit,’ or ‘I put you in a bad spot,’ whatever, ‘I’m sorry, I hurt your day.’

The damage to Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet after the race. (David Hoffman Photo)

The 2021 Cup Series champion believes he’s never impeded Hamlin’s finishing results, unlike what happened Sunday and earlier this season at Kansas Speedway. While fighting for the win at Kansas, Hamlin got Larson aero loose, with the No. 5 ending up in the wall. 

“Sure, maybe there’s been times that he’s been frustrated with me,” Larson said. “But, I’ve never hurt his results. I should’ve at least been top 10 and I finished 20th.

“In my eyes, I could’ve had 10 more playoff points, two more wins right now if not for the 11. Yeah, I’m pissed, and I should be.”

Ironically, Hamlin’s move on Larson mirrored a move he made on Ross Chastain last season that sent the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet into the wall. 

“He gave me a really good push on the frontstretch, and I was nervous of the move that happened, because he made it work on Ross last year, and he dirtied him up,” Larson said. “He knows. Ross deserved it last year for all the times he got into Denny.

“I felt like I didn’t. I deserved to be raced with respect at least, in turn one. But, he knew that was going to be his only opportunity to beat me, with how bad dirty air was. I got used up.” 

A Flurry Of Good Results

Despite the fireworks up front, Tyler Reddick and Truex gave Toyota a clean sweep of the top-three. Kevin Harvick quietly finished fourth in his final Cup Series race at Pocono, while Ty Gibbs scored his best finish of the season in fifth. 

“I would have rather won, but I think we just have to keep ourselves in the mix, keep doing what we’re doing and you just never know how these things are gonna play out,” Harvick said. “We needed the front in clean air and we never really got that. Our car just struggled in traffic on that first lap of the restarts to get going with the front tires, but it was a strange race.

“I didn’t ever think that that strategy would play out like it did, running where we were and then have it cycle all through. You’ve just got to keep going every lap. They know what they’re doing up there and let it play out.”

Christopher Bell rebounded after an early spin to finish sixth, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Harrison Burton scored much-needed top 10 finishes in seventh and eighth. 

A pair of Chevrolet’s in Erik Jones and Chase Elliott capped off the top 10. 

What Else Went Down

• William Byron led the field to the green flag from the pole position. J.J. Yeley brought out the race’s first caution flag on lap five after getting spun by Todd Gilliland. 

• Team Penske’s Joey Logano took over the lead on the following restart on lap 11. 

• Pit strategy began to come into play inside three laps to go in Stage One, with front runners Larson, Harvick, Byron, Bell, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch all pitting before the end of the stage.

Staying out until the end of the stage, Logano scored the Stage One win, followed by Truex, Hamlin, Reddick and A.J. Allmendinger. 

• Byron and Larson led the field to the green flag to begin Stage Two. Though a crash struck in turn one when Logano’s No. 22 ricocheted off Stenhouse  on the frontstretch, spinning into the outside wall. Daniel Suarez got spun while attempting to avoid Logano, heavily damaging the No. 99 Chevrolet. 

Logano’s day would end in 35th after failing to reach minimum speed, while Suarez’s No. 99 was sent to the garage in 36th. 

• The following restart on lap 42 saw another caution flag with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet backing into the outside wall. 

Kyle Larson gets spun by Christopher Bell at Pocono. (Dennis Bicksler Photo)

• Another attempt for a clean restart was quickly dashed after Larson got spun by Bell from second. Larson made minimal contact with the outside wall and would continue. 

• The challenge of getting through turn one finally came to a rest as Byron surged ahead on the ensuing restart. 

• With varying pit strategies, Larson and Harvick cycle through to the front two spots after the leaders pit. Harvick then pits with four laps to go in Stage Two. 

• A Bell spin with four laps to go in the stage kept Larson out on track to take the win. Despite worries of running out of fuel, Larson made it to his pit box.

• The beginning of Stage Three hit on lap 100 with Byron leading the field. Though Truex got the better of Byron to take over the top spot. 

• Running inside the top-five, Blaney began to drop positions with complaints of no power on lap 102. A suspected drivetrain issue is what the team diagnosed. 

• Tempers began to flare with 55 laps to go when Dillon got turned by Reddick in turn one, sending the No. 3 head-on into the outside wall. Dillon showed his displeasure by throwing his helmet at Reddick’s car. 

“I felt like I was holding my own,” Dillon said. “He was at my left-rear going in there, and I knew we were three-wide. I think I’ve got the right to at least hold my lane. I’ve got to turn at some point to get down. Brad (Keselowski) was on my outside, maybe a half-lane up.

“But Tyler (Reddick) drove it in there, and obviously I feel like he drove it in there deep enough where he had to come up the track into me. We can look at the SMT and see the little fine movements that we make, but I felt like that was not the time to do that for the No. 45.”

• After cleaning up, the race restarted with 49 laps to go. Truex assumed the lead over Byron and Gibbs.

• Pit stops began with 43 laps to go. Truex, Byron and Elliott were among the leaders to pit. Larson’s No. 5 team elected to take two tires to leapfrog competitors after entering pit road in 14th. 

Hamlin & Harvick pit shorty after with 36 to go. Both drivers elected for two tires as well, slotting in behind Larson. 

The front nine including Reddick, Jones, Stenhouse, Burton and Corey LaJoie held serve on top of the leaderboard in hopes of a caution flag. 

• The complexity of the race changed after Chase Briscoe got turned by Ty Dillon in the middle of turn three, sending the No. 14 car spinning. 

The top three of LaJoie, Aric Almirola and Gilliland all pit under caution, handing the lead to Larson. Elliott, Byron and Busch also elected to pit for four tires. 

• A restart with 13 laps to go saw Larson surge ahead while Truex vaulted to second ahead of Hamlin. Though Alex Bowman got loose in turn three one lap later, spinning and triggering a caution flag. Hamlin followed close behind Bowman before the accident, though never touched the No. 48 Chevrolet. 

• The final two restarts brought plenty of fireworks with Hamlin propelling to victory.