Denny Hamlin leads Joe Gibbs Racing top-three sweep in Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway
A week after falling one position short to Kevin Harvick for a third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin claimed that third win Sunday in the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway. His latest win, which came in a fuel-mileage race that went into overtime, also was the 11th win of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing and was Hamlin’s fifth-career win at Pocono, but his first at the track known as the “Tricky Triangle” since 2010.
“He said we were good to the checkered but not the green-white checkered, so he said we were going to have to have a different conversation if it went into overtime, but I knew with all those caution laps with about six or seven to go, it helped us out,” Hamlin said of crew chief Chris Gabehart. “I knew that – honestly, I knew that I did everything I could to save fuel there once I got out front. If it was going to be not enough, it was going to be not enough, so proud of the whole team for putting me on a great strategy there, pit stops, everything. This was a perfect team effort this weekend. We really identified our weaknesses from the first race, and we went to work as a driver and a team, and I think we’re better for it.”
Hamlin led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top-three of the finishing order, as Erik Jones finished second and Martin Truex Jr. third.
“It was a good day overall for our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker ATVs Boats Camry,” Truex said. “I was trying to save fuel, there, in that long run. We were running second to the 20 [Jones], and we thought we were in better shape than him on fuel. He started saving more, and I started saving more. I thought, ‘Man, I probably ought to try to pass him here. Then we got in lap traffic and the 11 [Hamlin] got around me. Then I got by the 20, and then the 11 had the control of the race after that. When the caution came out, he got to lead the restart. I was on the bottom. You can’t do anything from the front row on the bottom. We were kind of in a sucker hole there, and a little bit lucky to come back to third.”
Remaining JGR driver Kyle Busch wound up ninth after a green-flag pit stop for two tires and fuel on lap 135. Busch made his stop hoping the race would go green the rest of the way and everyone else would have to make another pit stop. The yellow flag waved two more times in the closing laps. Even though the last caution added laps to the scheduled 160-lap distance, other frontrunners were able to complete the race without another stop.
William Byron finished fourth after starting the race in the back because of a failed inspection between Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race.
“It was a struggle,” Byron said. “I felt like the guys did a good job with strategy and being able to maximize on restarts. We got fortunate on a couple of things. We go on from it and move onto Watkins Glen. It was a tough day. We didn’t really have a lot going our way. In the first stage and even the second stage, we were just kind of hanging on. We just found a way to kind of make it work. We had good strategy and just found a way to kind of settle in there in a decent spot and save the right amount of fuel. We ran out of fuel coming across the line, so that was great. We saved the right amount of fuel and that was about it.”
Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five after also starting in the back. Larson was in a backup car after a crash in practice.
“Last week, I felt like we had one of the fastest cars and we didn’t get to show it,” Larson said. “Today, I felt like we were one of the fastest cars. If I could just race a primary car, who knows what we could do. I just have to clean up a little bit of what I’m doing in practice and the races, and hopefully, we can get a win.”
Busch was on his way to pit road, out of fuel, on lap 98 just before the yellow flag waved for an incident involving Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney.
When Busch pitted from the lead just before the caution, Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead and, as a result, won the second 50-lap stage that ended on lap 100.
Busch and Kevin Harvick had combined to lead all laps to that point. Harvick started on the pole and led the first 39 laps before pitting late for four tires in a green-flag cycle of stops on lap 40. Busch took the lead, having pitted earlier in the cycle, taking two tires on lap 21.
Busch remained up front to win the first 50-lap stage, but after pitting early in the first green-flag cycle, he pitted during the caution between the first two stage. Harvick, after pitting late, stayed out to restart up front for the second stage.
“We had a good day,” Harvick said. ”Everything is going good; we just have to keep improving and doing the things that we’re doing.”
Busch restarted 10th, but on slightly newer tires, he moved up to third on lap 60, took second from Hamlin on lap 63 and the lead from Harvick on lap 72.
A few laps after losing the lead, Harvick pitted from second a few laps later. Busch had a couple of opportunities to pit under caution before running out of fuel -- first when Chase Elliott hit the wall on lap 83 and, then, for rain sprinkles on lap 92. He stayed out during both cautions.
Johnson pitted after his stage win, turning the lead back over to Harvick, who stayed out between the second stage and the third 60-lap stage.
Hamlin took his first lead on lap 104. After a caution for Ryan Preece on lap 114 the quartest of JGR drivers were in the top-four positions for the restart. Busch was the leader after staying out. Jones, Hamlin and Truex were second through fourth in the running order after being the first three off pit road with two-tire stops.
Stops during the Preece caution were the final stops for Busch’s teammates, Harvick and most other frontrunners.
Harvick finished the race in the sixth position after leading a race-high 62 laps.
“It was a good day,” Harvick said. ”They had the right strategy, and I just didn’t time those last two restarts right, and our car struggled a little bit on the first lap or two to get the front to turn, but they had everything right where it needed to be. If the caution doesn’t come out, I think we were in good shape, but that’s the way it goes, especially at this place. You have to have the cautions fall your way, and you have to have everything go right. We just had a few little things here and there that didn’t go our way and wound up sixth.”
Daniel Hemric was seventh, Brad Keselowski eighth, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-10, despite his incident with Suarez.
“There were some really rough parts,” Keselowski said. ”I made a huge mistake the first two or three laps, there. I was running hard behind the 41 [Suarez], and I slid up and tagged the wall, but I was able to get it onto pit road and get it fixed and claw our way out and get into a position at the end where I thought we were gonna win the race. Then, whoever that car was just stopped on the race track [Josh Bilicki] and cost us a shot at the race. We weren’t gonna win it honest, but we put ourselves in position at the end, so I’m really disappointed on that. All in all, we came away with eighth and recovered from our struggles, but gave up a win because of somebody else. That’s just part of the deal.”