After rain delayed the start of the first NASCAR Cup Series race of a series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, the win of the Pocono Organics 325 came down to a race between a driver looking for his first win at the track and a five-time Pocono winner. Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag about three-quarters of a second ahead of Denny Hamlin to claim his first win at the track after four second-place finishes there.
“I have to thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for all the great cars they have given me through the years,” Harvick said. “We finished second a bunch of times here. I know that they wanted to win here as bad as everyone else so we could stop answering the questions. The PR guy isn’t going to know what to do now. He will have to come up with a new title for the Pocono lead-ins. I want to thank everyone from our Head to the Mountains Busch Beer Ford Mustang and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing. Everybody has put a lot of time and effort into week after week and working their guts out at the shop just to get these cars tot he track, and we appreciate that.”
With Pocono marked off the list, only Kentucky Speedway and the “Roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway remain on the list of tracks at which Harvick hasn’t won.
“I just gotta thank everyone on this Busch Beer Ford Mustang,” Harvick said. “We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position, but we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps. It is great to finally check Pocono off the list. Everybody at Stewart-Haas racing has done such a great job with all our cars over the last several years. I guess it takes special paint schemes to get to victory lane. I want to say hi to my family. I know [son] Keelan raced all day and [wife] DeLana and [daughter] Piper and everybody at home. I am really proud of everybody, and I am just glad it didn’t rain all day.”
Also, Saturday’s win was Harvick’s third of the season, tying him with none other than Hamlin for most wins, so far, in 2020.
“Obviously, a fast FedEx Camry,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know if more time would have helped, but I had a bad vibration there the last 15 [laps], and that kind of hampered our efforts coming to the front, there. Not sure what it was, but it was really, really bad, and we just did all we could to run him [Harvick] down, and that’s all we had.”
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, finished a distant third, about 15 seconds behind his teammate.
“You have a lot of opportunity with this doubleheader at Pocono to score a lot of points, and that’s what we did today,” Almirola said. “Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was really fast. I’m so proud of ‘Buga’ [crew chief Mike Bugarewicz] and all of the people back at the shop working hard. I felt like we were right there with the #4 when we were on older tires and clean air. We’re trying to keep this program going, and we’ve got a lot of momentum. Three top-fives in a row. Really proud of my race team.”
Almirola led a race-high 61 laps before making his final pit stop under green with 36 laps remaining in the 130-lap race. Harvick, who was running second to his teammate ahead of the pit stops, and Hamlin were ahead of Almirola when the cycle finally completed with 17 laps remaining.
Harvick had taken second from Joey Logano on the restart that followed the second stage that ended at lap 77.
Almirola started on the pole and led the first 19 laps before Logano took the lead on a lap 20 restart. Logano claimed a stage win in the short 25-lap opening stage. Throughout most of the opening stage, Almirola, Logano and Logano’s Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney ran in the top-three positions. Despite not pitting during a lap-12 competition caution and a lap-17 caution for a Quin Houff spin, the trio of drivers continued to stay out after the first stage.
After staying out during the first few cautions, Almirola, Logano and Blaney pitted during green around lap 40. Almirola, who retook the lead from Logano on a lap-31 restart, gave up the lead to pit on lap 46. He, Logano and Blaney looked to be on a strategy of running the entire race distance with only two pit stops. Blaney would scrap that plan with a pit stop during the caution following the second stage. Logano wound up having to make an additional pit stop, unscheduled, because of a flat left-front tire with seven laps remaining.
After Almirola, Logano and Blaney made their initial stops, the Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin and Kyle Busch inherited the top-three positions in the running order after pitting for the first time earlier in the race — Truex during the competition caution, Hamlin just before the first stage concluded and Busch during the caution after the opening stage.
The frontrunners pitted during a caution for a J.J. Yeley tire problem on lap 66, turning the top-three positions in the running order back over to Almirola, Logano and Blaney. Almirola continued up front to win the second stage and remain up front until his final stop.
Harvick took second from Logano soon after the restart that followed the second stage.
Christopher Bell finished fourth, making him the highest-finishing rookie, and Busch rounded out the top-five. Finishing sixth through 10th were Truex, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher.
In all, the yellow flag waved six times. The final caution for an on-track incident came on lap 72 when Erik Jones and rookie Tyler Reddick slammed hard into the inside retaining wall.