Denny Hamlin Wins the NASCAR Cup Race at Pocono

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Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, PA — July 24, 2022

UPDATE: The cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch failed post-race inspection due to an unapproved front facia. They were disqualified and the victory was awarded to third-place finisher Chase Elliott

Through 20 races this season the NASCAR Cup Series has produced 14 different winners. That ties 2022 with the 1950, 2002, 2003, and 2011 seasons for the all-time NASCAR Cup Series-most winners through 20 races (1949-2022).

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell was on the verge of possibly not making the Playoffs sitting in the final transfer spot on points heading into New Hampshire last weekend, but all that pressure wasn’t enough to stop him from winning his first race of the season and clicking his ticket to his second career berth in the postseason.

Now with six races left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, just two spots are still open to make the Playoffs on points. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney currently holds one of those positions, 15th, up 105 points on the postseason cutline, and Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who dropped to the 16th and final transfer spot on points by virtue of his teammate’s victory, is currently 68 points ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick in the 17th position – the first spot outside the Playoff cutoff.

Cup Playoff Outlook

Here is a look at the drivers who have yet to win this season and how they have fared at the tracks remaining during the regular season.

Drive Without Wins This Season Number of Wins by Track
Pts Pos Drivers Pocono Indy RC Michigan Richmond Watkins Glen Daytona
15 Ryan Blaney 1 1 1
16 Martin Truex Jr. 2 3 1
17 Kevin Harvick 1 5 3 1 2
18 Aric Almirola 1
19 Erik Jones 1
20 Austin Dillon 1
21 Michael McDowell 1
22 Justin Haley 1
23 Bubba Wallace
24 Chris Buescher 1
25 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1
26 Cole Custer
27 Harrison Burton
28 Ty Dillon
29 Brad Keselowski 1 2 1
30 Todd Gilliland

 

Kurt Busch Sitting Out After Saturday Accident

Kurt Busch is one of the 14 winning drivers this season. However, after an accident during qualifying Saturday at Pocono, Busch was not cleared to race today after suffering concussion-like symptoms. That could be critical if three more drivers get their first win of the season in the next six races.

Busch sits with 465 points, currently good for 11th in the standings. He is 20 points ahead of Chase Briscoe in 14th. If there are more than 16 winners the tie-breaker for making the playoffs is where the 17th driver ranks in points. Without scoring any points in today’s race, it is possible Busch could fall to the bottom of the winner’s points standings.

Ty Gibbs, the grandson of NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs, is subbing for Busch today in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400.

Ty Gibbs climbs behind the wheel of Kurt Busch’s race car as he subs for the veteran driver ruled out at Pocono after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following a qualifying crash Saturday / NASCAR Photo

Today’s Race

Pocono Raceway is known as the “tricky triangle” and it has already lived up to its nickname as several drivers spun during qualifying. Three corners instead of four with a long and wide front stretch makes for different handling conditions as drivers make their way around the two-and-a-half-mile track.

Stages are set for 30/65/65 laps, 160 laps make up the 400-mile distance drivers will face today. Denny Hamlin won the pole. In 2021 NASCAR ran a weekend doubleheader with the Cup cars at Pocono. Alex Bowman won on Saturday, and Kyle Busch on Sunday.

The Start

Teammates Denny Hamlin(11) and Kyle Busch(18) started from the front row when the green flag dropped. Kyle Busch, who is in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and remains unsigned for 2023, is looking for a strong run today to impress potential sponsors that could lock him into the #18 car for the future. Interestingly, Ty Gibbs is one name mentioned as a possible replacement if Busch and JGR are not able to secure a deal.

Into turn one Hamlin drifted high and brushed the wall dropping off the pace slightly while he determined if his car was badly damaged. Fortunately, the contact was minimal and Hamlin was able to continue at speed.

Stage One

Six laps in, Austin Cindric(2) spun off turn three bringing out the caution flag early. After flat spotting and flattening tires, Cindric had to be towed to pit road. He lost a lap in the process.

When the race restarted, Kyle Busch experienced an incident similar to Hamlin and slid high in turn one. Busch was able to avoid the wall but dropped back to seventh in the running order.

Kyle Larson(5) inherited the lead and held it to the conclusion of the Stage. Several drivers outside the top 10 pitted early before pit road was closed with two laps to go. On the track, Aric Almirola(10) spun off turn three resulting in the Stage ending under caution.

Kyle Larson wins Stage One at Pocono / NASCAR Photo

Almirola came to rest on the front stretch near the exit of pit road. He also had flat tires. Rather than wait for the wrecker, Almirola turned and entered the pits heading in the wrong direction. He drove the short distance to his pit stall and his crew serviced the car sitting backward. NASCAR penalized the team for a commitment line violation. However, they were also penalized for entering the pit road before it opened after the accident. The penalty was the same, restarting at the rear of the field.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 5 Kyle Larson 10
2 9 Chase Elliott 9
3 11 Denny Hamlin 8
4 18 Kyle Busch 7
5 99 Daniel Suarez 6
6 12 Ryan Blaney* 5
7 43 Erik Jones 4
8 24 William Byron 3
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. 2
10 4 Kevin Harvick* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage Two

No sooner had the race restarted than Josh Bilicki(77) spun and destroyed his car hitting the wall out of turn one. Back under caution, Hamlin complained his car did not feel exactly right. The crew reported the tires that came off during the first pit stop showed signs of wear different than their expectations.

After cleaning up from the Bilicki wreck the race restarted. On the first lap of green flag racing, Hamlin spun and had to return to pit road for another set of tires and further inspection of the suspension.

Next restart, same result. Only this time it was Corey LaJoie(7) going around out of turn one as cars jockeyed for position with the pack bunched up. Everyone avoided the spinning car and the caution waved again.

When the race restarted this time it managed to stay green. Kyle Busch took over the lead after working his way back to the front after his near spin in Stage One.

As Stage Two neared the halfway point teams began to pit for tires and fuel to make it to the end of the 65-lap segment. The leader pitted on lap 66 with 29 laps to go to the green and white checkered flag.

Michigan’s Erik Jones(43) led late in Stage Two as his crew opted to use a different pit strategy. After pitting during one of the early cautions in the Stage, they decided to run as long as possible in the hopes a caution would come out and give them the advantage of track position.

The Petty/GMS crew’s gamble paid off as Jone’s teammate, Ty Dillon, spun exiting turn two on lap 82. It could be a potentially race-winning move as radar indicates rain is approaching the track and the race may not go the entire distance.

Kyle Busch grabbed the Stage win as Jones finished fourth and in a position to battle for the top spot on the restart.

Kyle Busch leads at Pocono Raceway / NASCAR Photo

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 18 Kyle Busch 10
2 1 Ross Chastain 9
3 12 Ryan Blaney* 8
4 43 Erik Jones 7
5 11 Denny Hamlin 6
6 4 Kevin Harvick* 5
7 24 William Byron 4
8 99 Daniel Suarez 3
9 9 Chase Elliott 2
10 5 Kyle Larson 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

After pitting on the Dillon caution, the leaders stayed on track preserving their position advantage. Pit stops from mid-pack back opted to come in for fresh Goodyear tires and a full tank of Sunoco Racing Fuel.

With 53 laps to go Ryan Blaney(12) had a left rear tire go down. He was able to nurse the car to pit road for fresh tires but lost a lap to the field as no caution was displayed. Adding insult to injury, Blaney is not within the fuel window to finish the race and will have to make another stop for a splash of fuel before lap 160.

At the front of the pack, Kyle Busch led but Ross Chastain(1) was able to hang with the leader. The duo held a two-second advantage over Hamlin in third. William Byron(24) ran fourth, with Christopher Bell(20) in fifth.

Green flag pit stops began with 40 laps to go, the leader came to pit road with 37 to go. Chastain pitted a lap later. After the top two finished their stops, Chastain was in front of Busch. With 33 laps to go almost all teams had cycled through their stops. Chastain and Busch were back out front.

The Finish

Hamlin was able to pass his teammate Kyle Busch, but his crew told him they may have not got the car full of fuel on their last stop.

With 23 laps to go, Ryan Blaney had just gone a lap down. Exiting turn three Blaney’s car broke loose and he hit the wall on the front stretch that separates the race track from pit road. His car was destroyed but Blaney was able to climb out and walk away from the accident.

The caution period will allow Hamlin to save fuel for the finish. The leaders stayed on track while drivers in the back of the field came to pit road for service.

The race restarted with 18 laps to go and the two drivers who have feuded all year long, Hamlin and Chastain, sitting on the front row. Racing side-by-side out of turn one, Hamlin had a nose out front. He drove high pushing Chastain into the wall getting the payback he had promised after several on-track incidents earlier in the year.

Chastain bounced off the wall and across the track clipping the front end of Kevin Harvick’s car. Chastain’s car was towed to the garage. After exiting the infield care center, Chastain acknowledge he was owed that and maybe more.

After 145 laps the front row is back right where the race started with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch side-by-side taking the green flag with 13 laps to go. The approaching storm was just east of the track as racing resumes. The rain may not make it before the race ends, but lightning is also a factor to consider.

Busch fell in behind Hamlin as the pair quickly separated themselves from the remainder of the field. Chase Elliott(9) ran third, unable to make time on the leaders. Tyler Reddick(8), Daniel Suarez(99), and Bell put on a furious battle for the fourth position.

Hamlin became the all-time winner at Pocono with his seventh victory, passing Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. It is also Hamlin’s third win in 2022. Busch finished second, Erik Jones came in 11th, and Ty Gibbs(45) placed a respectable 18th in his first NASCAR Cup Series race.

Hamlin celebrates in victory lane at Pocono Raceway / NASCAR Photo

It was Hamlin’s 49th career Cup Series win, passing Tony Stewart and trailing Junior Johnson by one on the all-time list. The victory was also the 199th all-time for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Playoff Standings

RK DRIVER POINTS STATUS
1 Chase Elliott 779 In Win(3)
2 Denny Hamlin 495 In Win(3)
3 Ross Chastain 679 In Win(2)
4 Joey Logano* 597 In Win(2)
5 William Byron 566 In Win(2)
6 Kyle Larson 657 In Win
7 Kyle Busch 646 In Win
8 Christopher Bell 601 In Win
9 Alex Bowman 534 In Win
10 Daniel Suarez 520 In Win
11 Tyler Reddick 507 In Win
12 Austin Cindric* 493 In Win
13 Kurt Busch 485 In Win
14 Chase Briscoe* 485 In Win
15 Ryan Blaney* 671 +106
16 Martin Truex Jr. 649 +84
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line
17 Kevin Harvick* 565 -84
18 Aric Almirola* 512 -137
19 Erik Jones 502 -147
20 Austin Dillon 446 -203

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Kurt Busch’s absence dropped him into a tie with Chase Briscoe for the final winner’s spot in the standings. Blaney’s accident cost him the huge lead he held over Martin Truex Jr., only 22 points are now separating them with five races left and the possibility of another 2022 first-time winner eliminating one of them.

Kevin Harvick’s late-race incident cost him a top ten finish and likely eliminated him from capturing a possible points entry into the postseason. He, like the other 14 drivers in the top 30 in points will need a victory if they hope to have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs.

Results of the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 from Pocono Raceway

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 11 Denny Hamlin 160
2 18 Kyle Busch 0.927 160
3 9 Chase Elliott 2.286 160
4 8 Tyler Reddick 3.118 160
5 99 Daniel Suarez 3.900 160
6 20 Christopher Bell 5.772 160
7 5 Kyle Larson 7.417 160
8 34 Michael McDowell 9.734 160
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. 10.290 160
10 23 Bubba Wallace 11.170 160
11 43 Erik Jones 11.555 160
12 3 Austin Dillon 11.684 160
13 48 Alex Bowman 12.791 160
14 24 William Byron 12.962 160
15 10 Aric Almirola 13.607 160
16 6 Brad Keselowski 15.283 160
17 14 Chase Briscoe 16.220 160
18 45 Ty Gibbs 16.676 160
19 41 Cole Custer 16.903 160
20 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 17.696 160
21 7 Corey LaJoie 18.581 160
22 22 Joey Logano 19.417 160
23 31 Justin Haley 19.705 160
24 42 Ty Dillon 20.168 160
25 21 Harrison Burton 21.162 160
26 16 Noah Gragson 21.280 160
27 38 Todd Gilliland 22.577 160
28 51 Cody Ware 23.998 160
29 4 Kevin Harvick 33.503 160
30 15 JJ Yeley -1 159
31 17 Chris Buescher -2 158
32 78 BJ McLeod -2 158
33 2 Austin Cindric -6 154
34 1 Ross Chastain -18 142
35 12 Ryan Blaney -25 135
36 77 Josh Bilicki -125 35