LONG POND, Pa. – It was a Joe Gibbs Racing kind of Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Denny Hamlin led the 1-2-3 finishing party and collected his fifth career Pocono Raceway victory, his first since the June race in 2010.
It wasn’t an easy victory for the No. 11 team, as fuel strategy played heavily in deciding the outcome of the event.
“He (Chris Gabehart) said we were good to the checkered (flag), but not the green-white checkered, so he said we were going to have to have a different conversation if it went into overtime,” Hamlin said in victory lane.
“I knew with all those caution laps with about six or seven to go, it helped us out. 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’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex, Jr. finished second and third, respectively, while Kyle Busch came home in ninth.
Kyle Busch played a different strategy for the majority of the race, but the timing of the cautions didn’t play into his favor.
Kevin Harvick started on the pole, and looked to be the dominant car early. Harvick led the first 39 laps of the race before peeling off for pit service.
Kyle Busch had cut the stage in half, and after the pits cycled, had taken over as the leader.
The stage continued on caution-free, and Kyle Busch was able to take the stage victory, collecting a valuable playoff point.
Harvick led the field back to the green to begin Stage 2, while Kyle Busch pitted during the stage break and restarted tenth.
With the fresher tires, Kyle Busch moved his way back to the lead at lap 72.
The first incident of the day flew the caution flag at lap 85, when Chase Elliott pounded the wall in Turn 3, ending his race.
Weather threatened the area around the halfway point of the race, and at lap 93, the caution was displayed once again for a slight amount of precipitation.
The rain wouldn’t last long, as the field re-racked for a five lap shootout to end the stage.
Kyle Busch was playing the long game, and Crew Chief Adam Stevens called in the No. 18 Toyota Camry to the pits as the field took two laps to go in the stage.
Jimmie Johnson, who restarted fourth, made his way around Harvick on the restart, and when Kyle Busch peeled off to make his pit stop, handed the lead over to the No. 48.
The stage didn’t get the chance to go the full distance green, however, as coming to the two-to-go, Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 3. Daniel Suarez also had collected some damage in the fray.
With the field frozen at the time of the caution, Johnson cruised around to take the Stage 2 victory, his first of the 2019 season.
The final stage was another restart led by Harvick, but Hamlin threw his name into the ring, taking the lead before the end of the lap.
Another caution was displayed at lap 115, when Ryan Preece looked to have cut a tire, striking the wall in Turn 1.
The strategy split the field once more on the ensuing pit stops, as it truly became Kyle Busch versus “The Field”.
Kyle Busch and team elected to stay out to regain his lost track position, while everyone else decided to pit, with 45 laps to go in the event.
Pit window was around 40 laps, so it was uncertain who would try to make it to the end of the race without pitting, or if anyone could pull it off.
As the laps wound down, Kyle Busch conceded the lead with 26 laps to go. Everyone else was playing the fuel strategy game.
Erik Jones inherited the lead at lap 134, but was in heavy fuel saving mode, as it was noted that he might be two laps short at one point.
Hamlin made his was around Jones on the outside, utilizing the traction compound in the corner, to retake the lead.
A caution at lap 154 bunched the field back up for another late race restart, as the No. 53 of Josh Bilicki stopped on the track.
Hamlin led the field back to the restart, but another caution put the race into NASCAR Overtime, as Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Michael McDowell collided on the backstretch.
Fuel mileage a concern for many, Hamlin took the field around to the green flag one last time, and held off his teammates to collect the victory.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 28, 2019
Hamlin collected his third victory on the 2019 season, and ties Brad Keselowski on the season. Only Hamlin’s teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. have more wins with four apiece.
Johnson’s Stage 2 victory helped close the point gap to the playoff cutoff, as he now sits 12 points behind both Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.
Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen International for their second road course of the season.
Last year at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott collected his first career MENCS victory over Martin Truex, Jr.
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