Denny Hamlin Leads JGR Sweep at Pocono
Thanks to a fast No. 11 Toyota, a feel for fuel economy and a first-ever application of traction compound to the asphalt at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin rediscovered the magic at the Tricky Triangle that marked his spectacular debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006.
Leading a 1-2-3 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers—none of whom, surprisingly, was Kyle Busch—Hamlin passed teammate and race runner-up Erik Jones on Lap 144 and saved enough fuel to last through an overtime that carried the event three laps beyond its scheduled distance of 160 circuits.
Hamlin won for the fifth time at the 2.5-mile triangular track after a nine-year absence from Victory Lane. The victory was Hamlin's third of the season and the 34th of his career.
After losing a last-lap battle to Kevin Harvick last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin made what turned out to be the winning pass on the outside of turn 3, where had the PJ1 traction compound had been applied.
"You just want to know that you're a race winner," said Hamlin, who turned heads in his 2006 rookie season with two wins from the pole at Pocono. "You just want to know that you can contend for wins. Yeah, you're looking for momentum, but you're just looking for wins week-in and week-out.
"We really fought for it last week and came up short, so it feels really good to kind of redeem ourselves this week and have such a strong car. Once we got behind there, we were able to make up positions on the 19 (third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr.) and 20 (Jones)."
Hamlin last pitted for fuel under caution on Lap 115, after Ryan Preece clobbered the Turn 1 wall to bring out the fifth of seven yellows. All three of the JGR cars were saving gas during the final run.
"I was in fuel-save mode and still trying to get around those guys," said Hamlin, who was running third behind his teammates after a restart on Lap 119. "When I got around them, I really went into conservation mode instead of stretching the lead out there."
Hamlin passed Truex in traffic on Lap 142 to secure second place. Two laps later, he surged past Jones into the top spot.
"I got the opportunity on the outside of Turn 3," Hamlin said. "Thank Pocono for the PJ1. Obviously, it could be hedged a little bit lower, but they at least gave us a second to race in today that we haven't had before."
Jones notched his runner-up finish after consecutive third-place runs at Kentucky and New Hampshire.
"Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn't sure how we were going to run," said Jones, who moved up one position in the series standings to 13th and increased his cushion over 17th-place Jimmie Johnson to 39 points with five races left in the regular season. "We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention.
"There at the end, I wasn't sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin gave me a great push at the end (on the overtime restart after a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent the race to extra laps). We were there for a second, then the top got rolling. I couldn't really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We've just got to break through. Once we get that first (win), I think we can click a few off here."
Kevin Harvick, Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10. Harvick led a race-high 62 laps, and Busch was out front for 56, but inopportune cautions spoiled their respective race strategies and left them fighting through traffic to get the results they did.
Busch won the race's first stage, and Johnson picked up his second career stage win in the second before finishing 15th.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Tell us about the conversation in the final laps with you and your crew chief, Chris Gabehart.
“He 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, but 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.”
Talk about getting around your teammates in the final laps.
“The lapped traffic was really a benefit for me. It kind of slowed up the 20 (Erik Jones) there. I saw he was letting off early on entries and that allowed me to kind of dive bomb into the outside into the PJ1 in Turn 1. With the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), he had to go low to pass a lapped car. I decided to just take the middle lane there in (Turns) 3 and 4. Once again, I had an extra lane that wasn’t there in the past and was able to get around him. Once you get behind, it’s so hard to pass and get around guys, but we were able to get it done.”
Take us through last restart.
“It was nerve wracking. I had Kyle (Larson) pushing me. Kyle is great friend, so I put a lot of faith in him that he was going to push me there into Turn 1, but I knew he was in a backup car there wanting to win really, really bad. Luckily, I was just able to clear those guys and coming off of Turn 1, they were side by side and I was able to stretch it out.”
Denny, you have the headphones on. Congratulations once again. That's win number five here. Is this momentum that you were looking for as we're getting closer to the Playoffs?
“You just want to know that you're a race winner. You want to know that you can contend for wins. Yeah, you're looking for momentum, but you're just looking for wins week in, week out. So proud of this FedEx Ground team for giving us yet another winner two weeks in a row. I tell you, we really fought for it last week and came up short. Feel goods to redeem ourselves this week and have such a strong car. Everyone behind there, we were able to make up positions on the 19 and 20. Thank all the partners, FedEx, Toyota, Coke, Jordan, Little Big Burger. Have to say hi to Jordan and the kids back home, Taylor, Molly. Miss everyone. Wish everyone was here to celebrate.”
ERIK JONES, No. 20 Reser’s Main St. Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 2nd
That looked like a lot of fun out there.
“It was. It was hard racing there in the end. The right restarts make for exciting finishes. Today was no exception. Wish we could have gotten up there and challenged Denny (Hamlin). Martin (Truex Jr.) gave us a great push on the final restart. The bottom just doesn’t have what the top does here on restarts, so we did all we could. The Reser’s Camry overcame a lot. We were pretty far off at the start of the race. We got it way better and had a chance to win had things worked out a little differently. We are close every week. So, it’s going to turn our way one of these times.
Erik, you led some laps, finished in the runner‑up spot today. How tough was that challenge of leading and fighting for the lead while conserving fuel?
“It's always a challenge. Probably my least part of racing at times is just having to save fuel. Our opportunity to win when we were going green was to make it to the end. It would have been really tight. Those guys kind of gave up saving there. We were hoping it was going to stay green. Had a couple good opportunities on the restarts. The Reser's Camry was there all day, second half of the day, we had problems at the start. Man, it's a bummer. We're close every week. Third, third, second. We're right there. We're doing great building points, but it would be great to knock a win out. We're just so close, it stings a little bit more when you get close to it.
What is clicking for this team so well right now?
“It’s a little bit of everything. Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn't sure how we were going to run. We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention. There at the end I wasn't sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin (Truex Jr.) gave me a great push at the end. We were there for second, then the top got rolling. I couldn't really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We just got to break through. Once we get that first one, I think we can click a few off here."
MARTIN TRUEX JR, No. 19 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 3rd
Martin, third-place run for you today. What more did you need there in the end?
“It was a good day overall for our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker ATVs Boats Camry. I was trying to save fuel there in that long run. We were running second to the 20 (Erik 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 (Denny 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.”
Between the restarts and the strategy, not knowing how much fuel you had to save, how tough was the game today behind the wheel?
“It's probably easier dealing with that kind of stuff when your crew chief is calling race strategy, has you on the right side of everything, than it is just to have to try to pass guys, maybe your car not be as good as you want. It wasn't a tough day. Our car was pretty good. Thanks to Bass Pro, Tracker, everybody back at TRD. Thanks, guys. We'll get after them in Michigan.”
Feedback can be sent to email@example.com
Go to our forums to discuss this article