LONG POND, PA –– Using every last second of the daylight on Sunday afternoon, NASCAR was able to complete every lap of the first-ever Pocono triple-header.
Denny Hamlin pulled off the strategy play, out-pitting Kevin Harvick as the sun began to set, as he went on to take the checkers once again at Pocono Raceway.
“This is work that happens in the shop, this is way beyond what happens on race day,” Hamlin said post-race. “Can’t say enough for FedEx, Toyota, Coca-Cola, the Jordan Brand. I mean six (career wins at Pocono), I can’t even put it into words, how much it means to me.”
Hamlin led three times for 49 total laps, the most in the field, and held off Harvick and the darkness for his sixth career Pocono Raceway victory, and the 41st of his career.
“I was just hoping for no cautions,” Hamlin said. “I knew we had the car. 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 (Gabehart) is paying attention to strategy there and made the right call.”
Everything was on schedule as planned. Both the NASCAR Truck and NASCAR Xfinity races ran longer than normal, but the NASCAR Cup Series drivers fired the engines right on time.
Ryan Preece earned the pole position via the invert from yesterday’s Pocono Organics 325, but due to an engine change in between races, was forced to the rear for the start.
Just before taking the green, lightning struck within eight miles of the track, and before a lap was turned, the race was placed on a 30 minute hold.
The lightning passed, and the race finally went green, but not for long. Kurt Busch led the first couple of laps, but the rain started spitting in Turn 3, and eventually, the entire track was dampened.
After a 50 minute, 50 second red flag period, the race went back to the yellow. Precipitation continued to fall lightly, but the track was never lost again, and the race restarted finally at lap 12.
Busch led the entirety of the first stage, and earned the stage 1 victory. He stayed out with Ryan Blaney through the stage break, and on the restart, Blaney took over control of the race lead.
The pit strategies began to split as multiple cautions began to plaque the mid-section of the race. With the amount of cautions happening after all of the delays from before, the distance of the race came into question. Could they make it the full distance before darkness set in?
As the field entered the final stage, the sun started to get low.
Brad Keselowski stayed out through the stage break, and led the field early in the final stage. Keselowski pitted from the lead with just over 45 laps to go, and that cycled the lead over to Saturday’s winner, Kevin Harvick.
Harvick took his No. 4 into the pits with 36 laps to go, only taking two tires. That cycled Hamlin to the lead for the second time, and the strategy play was on.
Fighting through slower traffic, Harvick couldn’t make up enough time for the tires to make a difference. By the time Hamlin pitted for fuel only, the good was wore off the tires, and Hamlin had pitted quick enough to keep the lead.
When it all cycled through, Hamlin regained control. The stage stayed green, and pit boards began to light up as the sun fell below the horizon.
Regardless, the full distance was achieved, and Hamlin was victorious.
Time to celebrate for @dennyhamlin!
Winner of @NASCAR Cup Series race #2 of our Doubleheader and winner of the first ever night finish at Pocono!
— Pocono Raceway (@PoconoRaceway) June 29, 2020
The conclusion of the Pocono 350 concluded the first NASCAR Truck, NASCAR Xfinity, and NASCAR Cup Series triple-header event, all races taking place at the same venue.
It wasn’t scheduled that way, as the Truck event was scheduled for Saturday. Rain postponed it to Sunday morning, and on a weekend that saw the first back-to-back races in the Cup Series at the same venue, also saw the first Top 3 series triple-header.
Both Hamlin and Harvick swept the Top 2 for both Cup Series races, trading spots between the different days. Harvick extends his point lead over Blaney to 52 points.
Next week is the Brickyard 400, for the first time on July 4th weekend. The NASCAR Xfinity Series and NTT IndyCar Series will also be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend, but both of those series will utilize the road course layout. The Cup Series will stay on the traditional oval.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com