NASCAR: Round 14 – Pocono – June 6

Denny Hamlin claimed his fourth victory of the 200 Sprint Cup series, dominating the race and leading 88 laps on his way to the win.

The race had been relatively uneventful for much of the afternoon, despite a stressful start for organisers when a brief but torrential downpour just around the scheduled start time caused a two hour postponement while the track was tried and holes patched up.

Once the racing got underway, Kyle Busch led only briefly from pole before Hamlin took charge on lap 5. Due to the earlier rain, a competition caution came out on lap 15 for everyone to come in and check out how the cars were faring in the new track conditions, and Kyle Busch came out ahead and led through to lap 38, at which point Kyle was struggling with handling and getting loose.

This time it was Clint Bowyer who was looking the fastest, and took over lead duties even through a round of green flag pit stops. Jimmie Johnson had been climbing up the order but had a slight relapse with problems in the pit stop with a lugnut falling off; Kurt Busch had an even worse time of it, a pit lane miscue resulting in a drive-thru penalty that left him in danger of going a lap down.

The race almost made it to a full century without a ‘proper’ caution but fell shy by three laps, a debris caution flying on lap 97. Kyle Busch led the restart ahead of Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer, the leading players remaining remarkably stable throughout. This role call at the front was joined by Kevin Harvick, who took over the lead briefly after the restart before Hamlin reasserted his authority.

Hamlin continued in the lead through to lap 155 when a third yellow came out, again for debris, and everyone took to pit road contemplating fuel strategies – it was just a little tight for fuel at this point, without either some serious consideration or the luck of a yellow flag or two, and in this surprisingly incident-free race so far, future cautions could hardly be guaranteed.

In fact, the fourth caution arrived extremely quickly when Casey Mears hit Elliott Sadler and got some heavy right side damage just four laps into the restart, and sent debris over the track. Then, as Hamlin led the field to green again, his team mate Kyle Busch showed that he still had the edge at restarts by taking the initial lead before Hamlin once again put his foot down.

Another yellow followed almost instantly, with Jamie McMurray sandwiched into the wall by David Ragan sliding up on him. That allowed all the leaders to abandon any fuel conservation strategies and come in for a top-up that would comfortably see them to the chequered, and on lap 171 track went green once more.

Some of the backmarkers had opted to stay out, and so we saw Kurt Busch lead, then Sam Hornish Jr. who was hoping to go the distance on fuel – and he was helped by a quick sixth caution caused by David Reutimann making contact with Jeff Burton and cutting a tyre. Hornish continued to lead until eleven to go, whereupon the inevitable Denny Hamlin ascended once more to the top spot, now with Tony Stewart surging into second ahead of Kyle Busch.

It was looking as through the race was done, with Hamlin bearing down on the start/finish line for the white flag – one to go. If he had made it before the seventh yellow came out then the race would have been deemed to be over, but he was just inches short – and the race went into overtime.

But a caution there was: running just outside the top five, Kevin Harvick had nudged the back of Joey Logano’s car and sent the youngster into a spin. There’s bad blood between these two after a clash earlier in the season at Bristol, and the initial reaction suggested that it wad been a deliberate move by Harvick; but overhead shots suggested that Logano had been moving down the track into Harvick’s past every but as much as Harvick moved up to cause the collision. It didn’t stop Logano venting his anger in a pit lane confrontation with Harvick after the race ended, pit crews and marshalls intervening to stop blows being exchanged.

“He just races with not giving people any respect and not much room,” said Harvick. “He let me go in the middle of the straightaway and decided to dump me in the next turn,” Logano argued in turn, adding the catty “”I don’t know what the deal is with me, but it’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family.”

That left the race in need of a two lap green-and-chequered showdown. For the first lap all proceeded well, Hamlin quickly pulling out a comfortable lead and looking safe ahead of Kyle Busch.

But behind the leaders, down the backstretch of the final lap, the biggest accident of the afternoon was taking shape as Kasey Kahne tried a dive down the inside of his team mate AJ Allmendinger for tenth place. AJ was having none of it and ruthlessly veered across right to the inner grass verge, leaving Kahne no where to go but onto the grass itself. Instantly he lost traction and spun, heading right up the track at ninety degrees to the oncoming traffic: Greg Biffle and Mark Martin went straight into his right hand side, tearing off their front sections in the process and lifting the 9 momentarily off the ground with the force of the impact; and behind them, all hell broke loose in the aftermath with multiple collisions and evasive action causing mayhem which saw, among other wrecks, Marcos Ambrose make it all the way to the inside wall to have an accident all his own.

“I don’t know what [Allmendinger’s] deal is,” said a furious Biffle. “He totally caused that whole thing. You can’t run a guy down on the grass. You can’t run your teammate down onto the grass. That is horrible.” AJ accepted the blame, weakly saying: “I am not really sure what happened … That is my bad. I feel bad about that, I really do.”

But at least it didn’t affect the top positions: with the yellow out after the white had already flown, this time Hamlin face no further restarts. The win was his.

Race result

 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	
FIN ST  CAR  DRIVER              MAKE       PTS/BNS  LAPS  STATUS       
1   5   11   Denny Hamlin        Toyota     195/10   204        
2   1   18   Kyle Busch          Toyota     175/5    204        
3   6   14   Tony Stewart        Chevrolet  165/0    204        
4   22  29   Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  165/5    204        
5   25  48   Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  155/0    204        
6   4   2    Kurt Busch          Dodge      155/5    204        
7   13  31   Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  146/0    204        
8   7   42   Juan Montoya        Chevrolet  142/0    204        
9   2   33   Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  143/5    204        
10  17  43   A.J. Allmendinger   Ford       134/0    204        
11  19  77   Sam Hornish Jr.     Dodge      135/5    204        
12  26  99   Carl Edwards        Ford       127/0    204        
13  12  20   Joey Logano         Toyota     124/0    204        
14  9   39   Ryan Newman         Chevrolet  121/0    204        
15  29  00   David Reutimann     Toyota     118/0    204        
16  33  98   Paul Menard         Ford       115/0    204        
17  15  17   Matt Kenseth        Ford       112/0    204        
18  24  78   Regan Smith         Chevrolet  109/0    204        
19  3   88   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet  106/0    204        
20  31  82   Scott Speed         Toyota     103/0    204        
21  11  12   Brad Keselowski     Dodge      100/0    204        
22  38  38   Travis Kvapil       Ford       97/0     204        
23  23  83   Casey Mears         Toyota     94/0     204        
24  43  26   David Stremme       Ford       91/0     204        
25  27  56   Martin Truex Jr.    Toyota     88/0     204        
26  35  6    David Ragan         Ford       85/0     204        
27  8   9    Kasey Kahne         Ford       82/0     203   Accident     
28  28  16   Greg Biffle         Ford       79/0     203   Accident     
29  14  5    Mark Martin         Chevrolet  76/0     203   Accident     
30  16  47   Marcos Ambrose      Toyota     73/0     203   Accident     
31  21  19   Elliott Sadler      Ford       70/0     203   Running      
32  10  24   Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  67/0     203   Accident     
33  37  37   David Gilliland     Ford       64/0     202   Running      
34  20  13   Max Papis           Toyota     61/0     200   Running      
35  42  34   Kevin Conway *      Ford       58/0     199   Running      
36  18  1    Jamie McMurray      Chevrolet  55/0     167   Accident     
37  36  46   J.J. Yeley          Dodge      52/0     40    Brakes       
38  41  71   Bobby Labonte       Chevrolet  54/5     32    Electrical   
39  32  55   Michael McDowell    Toyota     46/0     27    Brakes       
40  34  66   Dave Blaney         Toyota     43/0     24    Overheating  
41  40  36   Geoffrey Bodine     Chevrolet  40/0     23    Rear Gear    
42  39  164  Chad McCumbee       Toyota     37/0     22    Rear Gear    
43  30  87   Joe Nemechek        Toyota     34/0     11    Transmission 

Sprint Cup standings

	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	
POS +/-  DRIVER                POINTS  BEHIND  ST   P   W   T5  T10
1   --   Kevin Harvick         2063    Leader  14   0   1   5   10 
2   --   Kyle Busch            2044    -19     14   2   2   5   9  
3   +2   Denny Hamlin          1927    -136    14   0   4   6   6  
4   -1   Matt Kenseth          1893    -170    14   0   0   4   8  
5   +1   Kurt Busch            1881    -182    14   1   2   5   8  
6   +1   Jimmie Johnson        1849    -214    14   0   3   6   8  
7   -3   Jeff Gordon           1827    -236    14   0   0   5   6  
8   --   Jeff Burton           1803    -260    14   0   0   3   6  
9   +2   Carl Edwards          1729    -334    14   0   0   1   6  
10  -1   Greg Biffle           1727    -336    14   0   0   2   8  
11  -1   Mark Martin           1711    -352    14   1   0   5   6  
12  +1   Clint Bowyer          1686    -377    14   0   0   1   8  
========= CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS =========
13  +3   Tony Stewart          1685    -378    14   1   0   2   5  
14  -2   Ryan Newman           1668    -395    14   1   1   2   5  
15  -1   Martin Truex Jr.      1621    -442    14   1   0   1   4  
16  +1   Dale Earnhardt Jr.    1599    -464    14   1   0   1   3  
17  +1   Joey Logano           1585    -478    14   1   0   2   5  
18  -3   Jamie McMurray        1576    -487    14   2   1   4   5  
19  --   David Reutimann       1540    -523    14   0   0   3   3  
20  --   Juan Montoya          1513    -550    14   0   0   4   7  
21  +1   Paul Menard           1474    -589    14   0   0   1   2  
22  +1   A.J. Allmendinger     1457    -606    14   1   0   0   2  
23  -2   Kasey Kahne           1446    -617    14   0   0   2   3  
24  +1   Brad Keselowski       1418    -645    14   0   0   0   0  
25  -1   David Ragan           1408    -655    14   0   0   0   1  
26  --   Scott Speed           1361    -702    14   0   0   0   1  
27  +2   Sam Hornish Jr.       1260    -803    14   0   0   0   0  
28  +3   Regan Smith           1225    -838    14   0   0   0   0  
29  -1   Elliott Sadler        1220    -843    14   0   0   0   0  
30  --   Marcos Ambrose        1196    -867    14   0   0   0   1  
31  +1   Travis Kvapil         1161    -902    14   0   0   0   0  
32  -5   Brian Vickers         1158    -905    11   0   0   0   3  
33  --   Bobby Labonte         1069    -994    14   0   0   0   0  
34  +1   David Gilliland       971     -1092   12   0   0   0   0  
35  -1   Robby Gordon          963     -1100   13   0   0   0   0  
36  --   Kevin Conway*         859     -1204   13   0   0   0   0  
37  --   Mike Bliss            621     -1442   9    0   0   0   1  
38  +2   David Stremme         565     -1498   7    0   0   0   0  
39  --   Max Papis             560     -1503   10   0   0   0   0  
40  -2   Joe Nemechek          543     -1520   13   0   0   0   0  
41  --   Dave Blaney           499     -1564   12   0   0   0   0  
42  --   Michael McDowell      431     -1632   11   0   0   0   0  
43  +1   Casey Mears           425     -1638   5    0   0   0   0  
44  -1   Bill Elliott          372     -1691   4    0   0   0   0  
45  --   Boris Said            252     -1811   4    0   0   0   0  
46  +5   J.J. Yeley            205     -1858   4    0   0   0   0  
47  -1   Michael Waltrip       200     -1863   3    0   0   0   0  
48  -1   Terry Cook*           164     -1899   3    0   0   0   0  
49  -1   Robert Richardson Jr. 155     -1908   2    0   0   0   0  
50  -1   Aric Almirola         154     -1909   4    0   0   0   0  
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