Hamlin Rallies for Top-Five Finish at Pocono
Denny Hamlin finished fourth in Sunday’s 160-lap Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway, combining tactful driving with Crew Chief Mike Wheeler’s calculated pit strategy to claim his seventh top-five finish of the 2017 season in the event won by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.
Executing the #11 FedEx team’s original pit strategy, Hamlin stayed out during the mandatory break between Stage 2 and Stage 3, and he lined up second next to Martin Truex Jr. to start the race’s final 60-lap segment. Hamlin was quick to challenge Truex Jr. for the top spot, but he was forced to settle for second after getting loose as a result of his persistent attempts to claim the lead.
Green-flag pit stops in Stage 3 presented Hamlin and the #11 team with the opportunity they needed to reposition themselves for the lead. By lap 142, all of the leaders – including Hamlin – made their scheduled stops, and it was Hamlin that claimed the desired top spot once the field finished cycling through. Despite his best efforts to thwart off his competitors’ speed, Hamlin eventually succumbed to the race’s top-three drivers, and he crossed the start/finish line in fourth when the checkered flag flew.
“Not having a second groove to pass at this track obviously didn’t help us today, and I really hope it’s something we can explore for races here in the future,” said Hamlin. “I truly feel like we had more to give out there, but in the end, a top-five finish and a win by my (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammate Kyle (Busch) is still a good day for this #11 FedEx crew and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Hamlin started Sunday’s 400-mile race in fourth after qualifying on the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle earlier that race morning as a part of NASCAR’s two-day enhanced race weekend at Pocono. Despite battling a loose #11 FedEx Toyota Camry throughout Stage 1, Hamlin scored a seventh-place finish during the race’s first 50-lap segment. Unfortunately adversity soon followed after a speeding penalty on pit road forced him to restart Stage 2 from the tail-end of the field.
From there, Hamlin lacked the clean air and passing lane he needed to make his charge back to the front, but a caution on lap 70 gave him an opportunity to regain valuable track position. Forgoing pitting with the leaders during the caution, Hamlin moved into second alongside Austin Dillon for the restart on lap 74, quickly assuming the race lead and guiding the field for 16 laps before having to come down pit road for necessary fuel with only four laps remaining in Stage 2.
Hamlin led a total of 18 laps during Sunday’s 160-lap event at Pocono, triggering a $1,998 donation to Safe Kids Worldwide through this season’s Delivering Laps for FedEx Cares program. After 21 races this season, $38,750 has been donated to Safe Kids as a result of Denny’s on-track performance.
Hamlin drops one spot to sixth in the NASCAR point standings following Pocono. The series returns to action next Sunday, August 6, at Watkins Glen International for the second and final road-course race of the 2017 season.