Pocono’s historic, long day of racing capped by a Denny Hamlin win

Chase Briscoe, driver of the #98 Highpoint.com Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 225 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, June 28, 2020 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

 

The asphalt at Pocono Raceway saw more race cars this weekend than probably any previous race weekend in the half-century history of the Long Pond track.

And the traffic on the so-called Tricky Triangle also included an army of drying machines and cleanup trucks.

The dryers got a workout Saturday when rain forced a postponement, and another lengthy stint on the Monroe County track Sunday as the final of the five scheduled races and the second NASCAR Cup Series event of the weekend was delayed by a popup storm.

The weather-related delays led to a remarkable 8:43 p.m. finish.

The guy left dancing in the dark was Denny Hamlin, who tied Jeff Gordon for the most wins in Pocono Cup racing history with his sixth victory.

Hamlin, who drives a Toyota Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished second behind Kevin Harvick in Saturday’s Cup race. On Sunday, they changed places at the top of the leaderboard with Hamlin getting his 41st career win, moving him to 19th all-time.

“A sixth win. ... I can’t find the words to tell you how much it means to me,” Hamlin said. “I knew we had the car. I just tried to work through the traffic and we had the right pit strategy.”

Harvick pitted on the 105th lap. Hamlin gained a large position advantage with less traffic and even though he pitted later on the 120th lap, he was able to remain in control.

“I had really a really good car, even better than it was on Saturday,” Harvick said. It was just the way things worked out at the end. They did what they had to do and did the opposite of what we did in terms of pitting and it worked out for them. Overall, I can’t be dissatisfied with a first and a second.”

Harvick said the conditions didn’t play a role in the outcome.

“It wasn’t the first time we were in this situation,” he said. “It wasn’t terribly dark. I have been on race tracks where people had to shine headlights on the track to make the last couple of laps. People did a great job of getting the whole race in.”

Hamlin didn’t mind needing lights in Victory Lane, where the celebrations have been muted due to social distancing measures.

“I didn’t pay any attention to it,” he said. “It’s different without fans. When you are on a roll like we are, you wish you can live it up and hear the fans and even hear them cursing at you. Maybe another day.”

After the truck and Xfinity races went off without a weather-related hitch Sunday, Mother Nature made its presence felt before the start of the Cup race with a lightning delay. The race began and several laps were completed before NASCAR officials stopped it again for more than 50 minutes.

It was the eighth weather-related delay or postponement this season in the Cup series and it was the seventh since the schedule resumed May 17 after the pandemic-caused interruption.

The Cup series doubleheader, the first of its kind in the modern era of NASCAR, was scheduled in 2019 and not necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday’s truck race postponement created the opportunity for a historic tripleheader Sunday, marking the first time NASCAR’s top three series held events on the same track on the same day.

The racing began at 9:45 a.m. with the sun rising in the eastern sky, and didn’t end until 11 hours later after the sun had set.

For decades, NASCAR’s Cup series made a pair of stops at Pocono with one race in early June and the other in late July.

Had Sunday’s race been held at any other time than late June when daylight lingers the longest, it would have never gone on as long as it did. The official sunset time in Long Pond was 8:38 p.m., although the sun departed behind clouds a few minutes earlier.

Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski won the first two stages in an accident-filled race that featured eight cautions.

Retiring seven-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson finished 16th in his final Pocono race. Johnson finished 21st in Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace, who dominated the preweekend storyline, finished 20th. He finished 22nd Saturday.

The Cup series moves to Indianapolis on Sunday.

 

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