- Lap 25
POS 1 | LEADER
POS 2 | 1.238
POS 3 | 1.239
Martin Truex Jr.
Denny Hamlin brushes by Larson, scores 50th Cup Series win at Pocono
Denny Hamlin prevailed in a tight door-to-door, bump-and-go pass on Kyle Larson with seven laps remaining to claim a historic all-time-best seventh NASCAR Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway — the win in Sunday‘s HighPoint.com 400 also marking Hamlin‘s 50th career Cup trophy and second of the 2023 season.
The race ended under caution for a last-lap incident elsewhere on track, and the Pocono crowd voiced its displeasure, booing loudly as Hamlin celebrated after exiting his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on the 2.5-mile track’s frontstretch after the checkered flag. Hamlin, 42, maintained the action was just close-quarters racing for a win. Larson, who finished 20th after the contact, disagreed and was none too happy with his good friend and golf partner.
“Both guys wrecked themselves,” Hamlin said of his run-in with Larson and an earlier brush with Larson teammate Alex Bowman. “There was a lane. He [Larson] missed the corner first and evidently didn‘t have his right-side tires clean, and when he gassed up and got going again, you have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence or lift and race it out. Those were choices they made. I didn’t hit either one of them. Didn‘t touch them.
“I love it, I love it,‘‘ Hamlin added, acknowledging the boos. “I thought we had the best car, and the strategy worked out. Just so happy we‘re winning these races we should win.‘‘
Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, did not mince words after climbing out of his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Instead of a top-five finish — or a possible victory — he recovered from the incident to cross the finish line near midpack.
“First off, really proud of my team, they got us in position to race for the win,” said Larson, who led 24 laps and earned the Stage 2 win — his third of the year. “We got spun early [in the race], and the car was never really the same after that, but we played the strategy really well to get us up there. Just unfortunate.
“I‘ve been cost a lot of good finishes by him throughout my career, and I know he says that I race a certain way, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to apologize to him about anything, not that I‘m sure he‘ll say ‘I‘m sorry’ after this, but it is what it is. Just move on and try to go to Richmond, where we won earlier this year. It is what it is. Yeah, we‘re friends. Yes, this makes things awkward. But he‘s always right. All the buddies know Denny‘s always right. It is what it is. I‘m not gonna let it tarnish our friendship off track. But I am pissed, and I feel like I should be pissed.
“I think at this point I have the right,‘‘ Larson said of potentially racing Hamlin differently on track going forward. “Like I‘ve said, I‘ve never had to apologize to him about anything I‘ve done on the race track. I can count four or five times where he‘s had to reach out to me and say, ‘Sorry I‘ve put you in a bad spot there.’ So eventually, like he says, you have to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back.”
Hamlin earned Toyota its 600th career win in the three NASCAR national series combined. Tyler Reddick, who drives for the 23XI Racing Toyota team co-owned by Hamlin, finished second, with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. coming across the finish line third. Stewart-Haas Racing‘s Kevin Harvick and the remaining two JGR cars of rookie Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell rounded out the top six. Gibbs’ fifth-place result marked a career-best.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Harrison Burton and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10. It marked the second top-10 of the season for the 22-year-old Burton. And the effort from Elliott leaves him 59 points out of the 16-driver playoff pool, with five more regular-season races remaining for the 2020 series champion to race for another trophy after missing six races in 2023.
Elliott‘s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, polesitter William Byron, led the most laps (60) of the day but finished 24th. He now trails Truex by 31 points for the regular-season title.
Varying pit strategies — and in particular on the final green-flag run — changed the leaderboard in the last 30-40 laps of the race. Some drivers who hadn‘t run top five all day postponed their last stop, hoping for a caution flag. However, the day‘s strongest cars were in position to settle the trophy, with some — such as Larson and Hamlin — on a two-tire pit stop and some — such as Truex and Byron – with four fresh tires.
There were 11 cautions on the day, and incidents on three consecutive restarts after the Stage 1 break impacted the playoff situations of multiple drivers.
The first restart after the stage break not only involved the Stage 1 winner Joey Logano but also collected Trackhouse Racing‘s Daniel Suárez, who went into the race a single point behind Michael McDowell for the provisional 16th and final playoff position. Suárez’s No. 99 Trackhouse Chevy made just one additional lap but was too damaged to continue. He finished last in the 36-car field. Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford was flagged off the track for failing to meet the minimum-speed requirement, and he finished 35th after completing just 48 laps.
With five regular-season races remaining, Suarez dropped to 18th in the championship standings and his deficit to 16th-place McDowell now stands at 23 points.
“At the end of the day, it‘s our fault we shouldn‘t be back there with those guys, squirrels,‘‘ a frustrated Suarez said, adding, “It was a racing incident, but we shouldn‘t be racing those guys. We can only control what we can control.”
Austin Dillon was involved in a pair of incidents in Turn 1, brushing the outside wall on Lap 42 and then smashing into it on Lap 106 after tangling with Reddick. After a nudge from Reddick’s No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota, Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet made heavy contact with the barrier.
Dillon exited his car unhurt, then threw his helmet at the No. 45 car of Reddick, who was his Cup Series teammate at RCR from 2020-22.
RELATED: A.Dillon irate after Stage 3 crash
The Cup Series’ next race is the Cook Out 400, scheduled next Sunday, July 30 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) at Richmond Raceway. Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner. Kyle Larson won at Richmond this spring.
Note: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage at Pocono concluded without issue, confirming Hamlin as the race winner. The Nos. 4 and 19 will return to the R&D Center for further inspection, while the No. 47 will return to Concord, North Carolina, for a wind tunnel test.
Contributing: Staff reports