A Grieving Denny Hamlin Wins At Pocono [NASCAR Wrap Up]
Denny Hamlin grabbed the lead in the pits and as is often the case these days in NASCAR, once he got the clean air out front, he was able to pull away from the rest of the field.
Approximately a quarter of the way through the race, Paul Menard lost a right rear tire, bringing out the second caution of the day. Luckily his car didn't have too much damage and he was able to get back out. Tony Stewart spent an extended length of time in the pits, making adjustments on his "extremely loose" race car.
Denny Hamlin led them to the green again, but got a warning from NASCAR for changing lanes before making it to the Start/Finish line. The top ten on the track resembled closely the top ten in points and cars who had looked promising early on, such as Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr found themselves mired back in the 30's.
By lap 95, Hamlin had settled in in first with Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in pursuit. Wait, what? Tony Stewart? Yep, his patience, not one of his virtues in earlier years, had paid off. He and Darien Grubb has worked on the car and Smoke was screaming to the front. One lap later, on lap 96, car 96 got into the wall and the caution flew again, with Smoke on pit road, changing 4 tires.
After the restart, Kasey Kahne took over the lead and not much later, Jimmie Johnson started slowing dramatically. He pitted and the crew checked under the hood, and the media reported that it was the simplest thing possible, a loose plug wire. Only a lap or two later, it was evident that wasn't the problem as leader Kasey Kahne was able to put him a lap down.
Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards remained in the top ten, along with Smoke and Jeff Gordon,David Reutinann was holding strong as well, and the Childress cars were struggling again. Jimmie Johnson had gone two laps down when David Ragan hit the wall bringing out another caution. Jimmie came into the pits and the crew went to work under the hood, concentrating on the fuel system. Eventually they changed the carb, tires and fueled him up, and he got back out, without losing another lap.
Kasey relinquished the lead for four tires and Denny Hamlin beat them all out of the pits, but it would be Mark Martin who took over the top spot on the restart. Although the slicing and dicing up front was expected, the cars from 20th position back was where most of the action was found. As the race wound down, with fifty laps to go, Robby Gordon cut down a tire and spun, getting tapped after the fact by David Stremme. Jimmie got one of his two laps back, but returned to the pits for more service, changing spark plugs and wires.
Once the green flag came out again, Stemme and Robby would show their displeasure with each other, and NASCAR penalized them five laps each.
With 26 laps to go, an impatient Denny Hamlin jacked up the back of Reutimann's car and turned him directly into the 47 car of Marcos Ambrose, taking two Michael Waltrip Racing cars right out of contention. NASCAR ignored the move in this instance, but the caution meant that Jimmie was back on the lead lap.
It was Clint Bowyer out in front as the green waved again, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr following, and Kasey Kahne and Smoke right behind them.
Kenseth made a daring move to the inside, followed by Kurt Busch and took over the 5th spot, but they wouldn't get two laps in before a "big one" of sorts took out the third MWR car of Mikey Waltrip himself, Bobby Labonte, and Joey Logano. It was caused when David Ragan got into the back of Bobby as the 96 slowed for the corner. It was a rare site to see Bobby Labonte so upset that he shook off the hands of the safety crew as they came to his assistance. He's a former winner at the track, three times in fact, but of course when it came time to interview him, his class shone through.
With just over ten laps to go, Clint Bowyer was hanging on to the lead, but Denny Hamlin and Juan Montoya were coming strong. Hamlin made the move on Clint, but when he couldn't do it cleanly got into the 31 car and made the pass stick when Bowyer had to get off the gas. It was just a matter of time before Montoya also got by and set his sites on Hamlin. In the meantime, cars were changing positions all over the track, as were the positions in the points race.
In the end, no one had anything for Denny Hamlin and he would win the race, with Montoya scoring his first top five finish of the season. Clint finished third, with Sam Hornish Jr, over from open wheel scoring his best finish in NASCAR since making the change - two open wheelers in the top five. Kasey Kahne grabbed 5th after running up front for a good part of the race Happy Harvick got 12th, better than he has had in many races this year, something positive for RCR and Jimmie Johnson, even after all his difficulties, managed 13th.
It was an emotional and quiet Victory Lane for Denny, who didn't want to be at the track at all, having just lost his grandmother. He broke down in his victory interview and was unable to continue.
Pocono is such a long race, five hours plus from start to finish today. NASCAR could do well by reducing the length of the race. The beginning was exciting, the restarts were exciting and there was excitement throughout the race, but in the end, it all really came down to the last 40 or so laps.