Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin finished first and second in the first race of a NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway on Saturday. They finished first and second, again, Sunday in the Pocono 350, but this time around, Hamlin was the victor, with Harvick relegated to runner-up honors.
Hamlin’s win was his fourth of the season, most of any driver, so far, in 2020. it also was his sixth-career win at Pocono Raceway. Already the winningest driver among current competition at the triangle-shaped track, his latest victory tied him with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon for most wins, all-time at the track.
“He’s [crew chief Chris Gabehart] just unbelievable,” Hamlin said. “He’s done a great job with this race team. This is work that happens in the shop; this is way beyond what happens on race day. Can’t say enough for FedEx, Toyota, Coca-Cola, the Jordan Brand. I mean six [wins at Pocono]. I can’t even put it into words how much it means to me.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones finished third, giving JGR two finishes inside the top-three. Chase Elliott was fourth. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five, giving that team two top-five finishes.
“Another top five,” Almirola, who finished third on Saturday, said. “I’m so proud of Buga [crew chief Mike Bugarewicz] and al the guys on this 10 team. That’s four top fives in a row. What a weekend we had here in Pocono, got a lot of stage points and finished third yesterday and fifth today. We’re riding a wave of momentum and I’m just so happy and thankful for all of our partners — Smithfield, Ford, Mobil 1, Go Bowling, everybody that helps this whole program out and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. I know you guys have been working so many hours trying to keep up with the pace of all these races, so just really proud. We’ll go to Indy, a place that’s very similar to the tunnel turn at Pocono and felt like we were really good there this weekend. I’m excited about Indy and another top five.”
Brad Keselowski was the race leader before began a final cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 95 of the 140-lap race. Hamlin inherited the lead by staying out longer. When he finally pitted with 19 laps to go, Hamlin returned to the track second, behind teammate Martin Truex Jr., who had yet to pit, but ahead of Harvick, who had already made his final stop.
“I think for us, our Head for the Mountains Busch Beer Ford was, actually, better than yesterday,” Harvick said. ”We had a really good car. He [Hamlin] just did the opposite of what we did. We didn’t want to get caught with a caution and, then, wind up losing a little bit too much time in lap traffic with all the cars that hadn’t pitted, and he was out there running clean laps and waited until right to the very end and wound up in front of us. I’m proud of everybody on our team yesterday that won us the race and today finished second.”
When Truex ended the cycle with his stop with about 15 laps remaining, Hamlin cycled back to the lead with Harvick in second.
“I was just hoping for no cautions. I knew we had the car,” Hamlin said. “I was just maintaining my gap, right there, and didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and threw that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic as best I could and obviously Chris is paying attention to strategy, there, and made the right call.”
The Pocono race weekend already was to be a history-making weekend for NASCAR, as Cup Series races Saturday and Sunday marked the first time the premier series raced on consecutive days at the same track. A rain delay of the weekend’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race from Saturday to Sunday morning added to the historic weekend. With the Truck Series race added to the Sunday schedule that already included races for the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup series, the three-race day was the first, ever, for all three of NASCAR’s national series racing on the same day at the same track.
After the weather cooperated for the first two races Sunday, he start of the Pocono 350 was delayed about half an hour by lighting. After the completion of six laps, three of them under green, rain further delayed the race by nearly another hour. When the race finally got going, Kurt Busch dominated early, leading the first 35 laps, including a stage-one win on lap 30.
Ryan Preece was the official pole sitter Sunday as a result of the top-20 of the finishing order from Saturday’s race being inverted to set the front half of the starting grid for Sunday’s race. Preece, though, had to drop to the back to start the race because of an engine change, moving Busch up to the front row for the initial green flag.
Austin Dillon, who also started on the front row, lost positions in the opening laps as Ryan Blaney moved into second. Blaney ran second to Busch until taking the lead on lap 36.
After pit stops for some, including Busch, during a lap-39 caution, Blaney had the Joe Gibbs racing duo of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch behind him in second and third. Hamlin soon joined his JGR teammates just behind Blaney.
Blaney, then, gave up the lead to pit on lap 57. Truex and Kyle Busch also pitted, turning the lead over to Hamlin, with Harvick 5.2 seconds behind him in second. Hamlin was credited with a race-high 59 laps led by the end of the race.
Running outside the top-20 after pitting, Kyle Busch crashed after contact with Blaney as they ran 22nd and 23rd on lap 76.
“I don’t know,” Busch said. “The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today. I guess it proves that if you get a little practice time in and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with, so hopefully, life gets back to normal eventually, but we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&Ms Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. It’s just very frustrating and unfortunate. I know what happened, but it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.”
Brad Keselowski won the second stage that ended at lap 85. He was the race leader for the restart after Busch’s crash after staying out during the caution. Almirola was second. Almirola took the lead on the restart, but after another caution, Keselowski retook the lead during a two-lap, green-flag run to end the stage.
Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth, William Byron was seventh, Clint Bowyer eight, Alex Bowman ninth, and Truex was 10th at the checkered flag.