The Headline(s): Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick finished 1-2 again on Sunday, June 28 at Pocono Raceway, although the roles were reversed this time with Hamlin scoring his fourth win of 2020. Erik Jones ended up third, followed by Chase Elliott. Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five finishers.
How it Happened: For the second time this weekend, weather plagued the Cup Series and didn’t allow the race to start on time. On Sunday, though, it was thunder that struck the first blow as drivers made their pace laps prior to the scheduled green flag. Once the required 30 minutes passed without any more lightning in the area, drivers once again strapped in and this time took the green flag.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done messing around. Minutes later, the rains came heavily enough to bring out the caution on lap 5. Though NASCAR’s original plan was to keep the drivers in their cars, expecting a short delay from a small storm cell that rolled through, heavier rains delayed the race for nearly an hour before drivers once again climbed on board.
Light sprinkles after drivers were called back to their cars saw the field turn a handful of laps under caution before they took the green flag once again. That’s despite calls from drivers and spotters that the track was wet.
Ryan Blaney then took over the top spot and held it for 21 laps before Kyle Busch took over for two circuits. Varying pit strategies then saw a total of seven drivers swap the lead 11 times throughout the race. Brad Keselowski wound up winning stage two after an incident cut short the Blaney-Busch battle up front (along with Busch’s day).
The final stage was more of the same, pit strategy taking center stage in a caution-free run to the finish. But when Hamlin retook the top spot for the third time, he held it for the final 15 laps en route to his fourth win of 2020.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Matt DiBenedetto put together an impressive race that saw him score his fourth top 10 in 15 races with a sixth-place result on Sunday. The driver of the No. 21 Ford continues to impress after being released from Leavine Family Racing in favor of Christopher Bell. And while his 13th-place finish on Saturday isn’t indicative of his performance throughout the weekend, it’s important to note that DiBenedetto scored points in stage one and two in both races of the doubleheader. He still remains in a less-than-comfortable position of 14th in the standings, just 43 points ahead of the ever-important playoff cut line.
6th place finish as well as stage points in both stages! Solid day by my team and good strategy 💪🏻
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) June 29, 2020
Erik Jones rebounded after an early crash on Saturday at Pocono to score his best finish of the 2020 season. He and Tyler Reddick tangled just past halfway in the first of the doubleheader races, forcing Jones out of the event and into a backup car. But despite starting at the rear of the field, along with eight other drivers, Jones was able to jump to third by the time the checkered flag flew. It was also enough to allow him to move up to 16th in the point standings.
It’s great to rebound for a P3 finish like that. Our @CRAFTSMAN #Camry was fast all weekend. Wish we could have been more of a contender today, but hope we can keep the momentum rolling in Indy.#TeamCRAFTSMAN #TeamTOYOTA pic.twitter.com/MGAizsrkQU
— Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones) June 29, 2020
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Reddick didn’t even get a chance to show what he had for the rest of the field at Pocono on Sunday. After the green flag flew, the No. 8 Chevrolet suffered power issues. The yellow flag for rain turned out to be a bit of a help for the crew, allowing them time to assess the problem. Still, by the time Reddick was back out on the track, the damage had already been done as he was five laps down. A pair of less-than-stellar finishes of 30th and 35th saw the rookie drop two spots in the championship standings ahead of the series’ visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend.
— Zach Sturniolo (@zachstur) June 28, 2020
It’s hard to believe we would ever consider a season with eight top 10s in 15 races a bad season, but for Kyle Busch, that’s exactly what it’s shaping up to be. In fact, 2020 has taken on a rollercoaster feel in the last few races with finishes of sixth, 32nd, fifth and 38th.
The pair of Pocono races affected Busch much the same way. A top-five finish Saturday seemed to propel him into contention Sunday. More than halfway through the second stage, Busch found himself leading the race.
But the ending to it all wasn’t as kind. One ill-fated tap from Blaney’s front bumper turned Busch’s car into a heap of scrap metal.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 29, 2020
“The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today,” Busch said. “I guess it proves that if you get a little practice time in, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, life gets back to normal eventually but we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&M’s Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job.”
Insights, Opinions and Fake News
The last time Denny Hamlin had four wins in the first 15 races of the season was in 2010 when he had eight overall and five victories at this point in the year. That was the year the driver of the No. 11 Toyota came his closest to winning the championship, falling short to Jimmie Johnson in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But this year, it feels like Hamlin walks around with a little more pep in his step and a lot more confidence than he did 10 years ago. That could spell disaster for the rest of the competition.
For what is likely his final race at Pocono, Jimmie Johnson’s daughters were allowed to give the command for Sunday’s race. It may have been one of the cutest commands all season.
Yes I’m biased but… that was the best command to start engines. Ever pic.twitter.com/YsEKf2jfqc
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) June 28, 2020
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) June 28, 2020
Between driver aggression and Mother Nature, Pocono felt like the Twilight Zone. A nearly 12-hour day of racing at Pocono Raceway that should have had much larger breaks in between the Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks, Xfinity and Cup series events was plagued by a total of five red flags and 22 cautions. The fields combined were slowed for 91 yellow flag laps.v
What’s the Point(s)?
Kevin Harvick holds a 52-point lead over Ryan Blaney, who leads teammate Brad Keselowski in third. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin round out the top five in points.
Hamlin now has the most wins this season at four, but he’s followed closely by Harvick’s three. Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano have two apiece, while Blaney, Elliott, Truex and Bowman each have one.
If the playoffs were to begin today, eight of the 16 spots would be filled by drivers still seeking a win. The Busch brothers, Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Erik Jones would point their way into the field.
Richard Childress Racing’s two drivers, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, are the first two on the outside looking in. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has moved to 19th in points but remains 30 markers behind the final spot.
Where it Rated: Stage one on Sunday had more action and enough to keep your interest than the entire race on Saturday. But with that said, drivers were still plagued with the inability to pass and a tire that failed to fall off for extended periods of time, making it just another ho-hum Pocono event. This one may have been worth two beers, but that’s not saying much for a doubleheader NASCAR hoped would lead to renewed interest in the racing here.
Up Next: The Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 5 for the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400. Race coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBC or on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
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