NASCAR Pocono Cup Race Ends in Controversy, with Hamlin Win

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Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, PA — July 23, 2023

Unique in its design, the three-turn, paved 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway will host the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend for the HighPoint.com 400. Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971, and the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway was on August 4, 1974. The first Cup Series Pocono event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty.

Today’s race is the 21st event of the 26-race regular season. Time is running out for those drivers that need a win to advance to NASCAR’s postseason.

One of those currently on the outside of top-16 is Hendrick Motorsports driver and NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Chase Elliott. He is 60 points below the cut line for the final playoff position. Elliott returns to Pocono Raceway to defend his win from last year and get his first victory of the 2023 season. Should Elliott, the 2020 series champion, repeat at the tricky triangle, he can extend his streak of making the postseason to an eighth consecutive season (2022, ’21, ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16).

Last season’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono had an interesting twist to its conclusion. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin (first) and Kyle Busch (second) were the two first drivers to cross the finish line. Followed by Chase Elliott (third), but both JGR cars failed post-race inspection, and their finishes were disqualified, handing the victory to Elliott.

It will not be easy for Elliott to accomplish the task. Today’s field is stacked with former winners at the track.

Active Pocono Winners (10) Wins Seasons
Denny Hamlin 6 2020, 2019, 2010, 2009, 2006 sweep
Kyle Busch 4 2021, 2019, 2018, 2017
Martin Truex Jr 2 2018, 2015
Chase Elliott 1 2022
Alex Bowman 1 2021
Kevin Harvick 1 2020
Ryan Blaney 1 2017
Chris Buescher 1 2016
Joey Logano 1 2012
Brad Keselowski 1 2011

 

Playoff Possibilities

Should a driver who already has a win in 2023 capture the HighPoint.com 400, it is almost a certainty that there will be a points battle for one or more of the final playoff positions. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Chris Buescher are seeing their chances of getting in improve every week as they have a big interval on the cut line.

Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, Daniel Suarez, and AJ Allmendinger are all agonizingly close. They must hope for a repeat winner and to take advantage of every Stage point and position point available over the next six races.

2023 NASCAR Cup Series Driver Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 20 – Drivers Without Wins
Rank Drivers Points Starts Wins Stages Playoff Pts Points From Cutoff
12 Kevin Harvick* 568 20 0 1 1 137
13 Brad Keselowski* 539 20 0 2 2 108
14 Chris Buescher* 528 20 0 1 1 97
15 Bubba Wallace 433 20 0 0 0 2
16 Michael McDowell* 432 20 0 0 0 1
17 Daniel Suarez 431 20 0 0 0 -1
18 AJ Allmendinger 412 20 0 0 0 -20

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Some drama also remains in the chase for the regular season championship. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. grabbed his third win of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend and opened up his NASCAR Cup Series driver point standings lead to 17 points over Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron in second.

“The Regular Season Championship is a big deal; 15 points for that,” said Truex following his New Hampshire win. “If we can keep knocking off bonus points, that’s going to be very, very important come Playoff time.”

Truex is one of seven different drivers to occupy the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings lead this season. He and Byron have swapped the points lead in recent weeks, and with Byron only 17 points back and third-place Christopher Bell dropping behind by -62 points, it will be interesting to see who can catch Truex in this final stretch.

NASCAR News: SVG to Return on Indy Road Course

He’s coming back. Shane van Gisbergen, the three-time Supercar champion and winner of the July 2 inaugural Chicago Street Race in his lone NASCAR Cup Series start, will return to the Cup Series on August 13 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 34-year-old Auckland, New Zealand native will again race the No. 91 car for the Trackhouse Racing team’s PROJECT91 program.

“I never dreamed this could have all rolled out this way,” said van Gisbergen, who returned to Supercar competition in Australia days after leading nine laps and winning by 1.259 seconds in overtime at Chicago. “Just getting to race in NASCAR is an opportunity I never thought I would get, but then to win and get another chance this year is beyond anything I imagined. I can’t thank (Trackhouse founder and owner) Justin Marks, everyone at Trackhouse Racing, and NASCAR for this opportunity. Everyone in NASCAR welcomed me to Chicago, and it’s been awesome to see how big the reception from that race has been around the world. I am honored to be part of it.”

Van Gisbergen became one of six foreign-born drivers to win a Cup Series race and the first driver since Johnny Rutherford in 1963 to win his first Cup Series start. It was just the latest entry in a resume that includes Supercars Championships for Triple Eight Race Engineering in 2016, 2021, and 2022, plus 78 wins and 47 pole positions, making him the fourth most successful driver in series history. He also won the Bathurst 1000 in 2020 and 2022.

Today’s Race

HighPoint.com 400 is scheduled for 160 laps around the 2.5-mile speedway. Stages are 30/65/65 laps. William Byron is on the pole for today’s race. Martin Truex Jr. starts beside him on the front row. Defending champion Chase Elliott will start 35th after spinning during his qualifying run and failing to post a time.

Kyle Busch won the truck race on Saturday, the 100th victory for his Kyle Busch Motorsports racing team. He starts in the 25th position on the grid today.

Stage One

William Byron(24) drove off into turn one with the lead as the field of cars behind him sorted out positions and formed a line of single-file racing.

Just five laps in, JJ Yeley(15) spun out of turn three and down the front stretch bringing out the first caution of the day. All the leaders stayed on the track, and when the race restarted, Joey Logano(22) lined up beside Byron taking advantage of the “choose rule.”

Logano out-raced Byron out of turn two and took over the top spot. Kyle Larson(5) followed him past, relegating Byron back to third. Kevon Harvick(4) ran fourth, and Truex sat fifth.

As the laps ran down in Stage One, Kyle Busch(8) pitted early in an attempt to improve his track position after the leaders stop at the end of the Stage.

Larson, Byron, and Harvick followed suit.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 22 Joey Logano* 10
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. 9
3 11 Denny Hamlin 8
4 45 Tyler Reddick 7
5 16 AJ Allmendinger 6
6 34 Michael McDowell* 5
7 23 Bubba Wallace 4
8 31 Justin Haley 3
9 17 Chris Buescher* 2
10 43 Erik Jones 1

*Ford Mustang Drives

Stage Two

The race off pit road went to Denny Hamlin(11), followed by Truex, Ty Reddick, Logano, and Michael McDowell(34). However, they lined up behind the 11 cars that pitted early.

Coming to the restart, the top five were Byron, Larson, Harvick, Ryan Blaney(12), and Christopher Bell(20). As the field raced down into turn one, Joey Logano went around with the help of a tap to the rear bumper by McDowell.

Daniel Suarez(99) got caught up in the incident and ran headfirst into the outside wall. The race car suffered significant damage. If they cannot fix it under the “damage clock time limit,” Suarez will face a significant loss of potential points that he can ill-afford, considering he is currently setting below the playoff cut line.

Suarez’s crew got his car back on the track, but the damage was so severe it was doubtful they could maintain minimum speed, and they were forced to retire to the garage.

Logano’s car was towed to the pits, where it sat when the race restarted. Before the field could complete a lap, Austin Dillon(3) spun out of turn one, and the caution came out again.

Logano’s crew finally got his race car going, and he rejoined the race seven laps down.

One more time to the green flag, and Kyle Larson spun off the front row. Somehow the rest of the field avoided contact with the spinning car as it climbed the track and backed into the outside wall. Just 47 laps into the 160-lap event, and there have been five cautions already.

On this restart, they are finally able to resume racing as drivers stopped running into each other. Byron led, followed by Blaney, Ty Gibbs(54), Brad Keselowski(6), and Christopher Bell(20).

Chase Elliott(9) advanced from the back of the pack to the sixth position with 30 laps remaining in Stage Two. Joey Logano’s car finally succumbed to the damage it suffered, and he became the second driver to retiree from the race.

Green flag pit stops began with 27 laps to go. But, some teams were trying to stretch their fuel run to be able to complete the total race distance with just two more pit stops.

The lead cars began pitting with 16 laps to go in the Stage. Some took fuel only. Others got four tires and packed the tank full of gas.

With the different pit strategies, the front of the field took on a new look. With ten laps to go, Larson recovered from his spin to get back to the lead. He was followed by Harvick, Ty Dillon, Byron, and Hamlin.

With four laps to go in the Stage, Bell got loose and spun off turn one, bringing out the caution, locking the field in place, and avoiding a late Stage scramble for points.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 5 Kyle Larson 10
2 77 Ty Dillon 9
3 24 William Byron 8
4 11 Denny Hamlin 7
5 48 Alex Bowman 6
6 45 Tyler Reddick 5
7 54 Ty Gibbs # 4
8 12 Ryan Blaney* 3
9 23 Bubba Wallace 2
10 19 Martin Truex Jr. 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

It seems every team has their own plan for pit stops in the final Stage. The restart will mix teams with new tires and teams on worn rubber. It will only matter if the race goes green for the final 65 laps. Given what has happened thus far, don’t bet on it.

Byron leads back to the restart. Gibbs, Blaney, Truex, and Chris Buescher(17) follow. Blaney took the lead out of turn one. Then two laps later, something happened to his car, and he began to lose positions quickly.

Austin Dillon had worked his way up to the 11th position and was racing his former teammate Tyler Reddick. As they went three-wide into turn one, Dillon spun and hit the wall hard, taking the #3 car out of the race.

Dillon climbed out of the car ok, and before taking a ride to the infield care center, he threw his helmet at Reddick’s car when it came back around the track.

The caution came a little early as the race had not reached the window for the final pit stop. Some teams opted to pit in the hopes it will make their final stop a little shorter to fill the car up.

Green flag pit stops brought the leaders to the pit road. Like every other pit sequence, a number of cars stayed on the track, trying to gain an advantage and hoping for a caution. Ironically, it was Reddick who inherited the top spot when the leaders pitted.

Behind the cars remaining on the track, Larson, Hamlin, and Truex were closing with fresher tires.

The Finish

With 20 laps to go, Corey LaJoie(7), Aric Almirola(10), and Todd Gilliland(38) were the three cars needing to pit. They got the break they were looking for when Chase Briscoe(14) spun off turn three with 18 laps to go, and the caution came out.

The trio will get to pit and have the freshest tires of all the competitors. Larson, Hamlin, and Truex stayed out with several other drivers. The majority of the field pitted, so it will be interesting to see if the new tires make enough of a difference to pass the leaders who will be staring on older Goodyears.

The race restarted with Larson and Hamlin on the front row and 13 laps to go. Truex push Larson to the lead, and Alex Bowman(48) got past Hamlin to take over the third spot.

With 11 laps to go, Bowman got loose in turn three and went around. Hamlin was right behind and may have taken the air off Bowman’s spoiler, but the two did not make contact. The two drivers had contact that created incidents at Chicago and Atlanta, so Bowman assumed his spin was Hamlin’s fault.

Restarting with seven laps to go, Larson on the outside, shares the front row with Truex. Reddick lines up behind Truex, and Larson will get a push from Hamlin in row two.

Hamlin pushed Larson to the lead and then dove to the inside of the leader to take the position away. Larson felt he was forced high and made contact with the wall as a result. Behind the leaders, Justin Haley(31) spun and hit the outside wall. As they came around to take the yellow flag, Larson pulled up next to Hamlin and slammed his door in retaliation.

Coming to the choose arrow Hamlin, Harvick, Truex, and Larson lined up. Hamlin took the outside of row one, Truex to the inside. With Larson behind Truex and Harvick behind Hamlin.

The green flag waved with three laps to go, and positions shuffled with Truex pushing Hamlin clear of the pack. Larson faded back in the pack. Reddick moved up to third. As the leaders were heading to the white flag, Ryan Preece(41) spun off turn two. Inexplicably, NASCAR opted not to throw the caution flag and instead gave Hamlin the white flag.

When Preece could not restart his car, the yellow waved and ended the race. The crowd in the grandstand voiced their disapproval loudly. The chorus of boos continued when Hamlin exited his car. Were they booing the race not being extended to overtime, or were they booing Hamlin for his aggressive driving on Larson and Bowman?

Either way, the ending is sure to sell seats next Sunday at Richmond Raceway. Tempers are sure to flare when racing moves to a short track.

Of note, Michigan Erik Jones(43) finished ninth, and Chase Elliott, still winless in 2023, finished tenth.

Playoff Standings

RK DRIVER POINTS STATUS
1 William Byron 681 In Win(4)
2 Martin Truex Jr. (Points Leader) 711 In Win(3)
3 Kyle Busch 609 In Win(3)
4 Denny Hamlin 656 In Win(2)
5 Kyle Larson 601 In Win(2)
6 Christopher Bell 636 In Win(1)
7 Ross Chastain 613 In Win(1)
8 Ryan Blaney* 591 In Win(1)
9 Joey Logano* 575 In Win(1)
10 Tyler Reddick 563 In Win(1)
11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 494 In Win(1)
12 Kevin Harvick* 601 +163
13 Brad Keselowski* 560 +122
14 Chris Buescher* 549 +111
15 Bubba Wallace 465 +27
16 Michael McDowell* 455 +17
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line
17 AJ Allmendinger 438 -17
18 Daniel Suarez 432 -23
19 Ty Gibbs 427 -28
20 Alex Bowman 409 -46
21 Chase Elliott 399 -56
22 Austin Cindric* 395 -60
23 Justin Haley 393 -62
24 Todd Gilliland* 358 -67
25 Aric Almirola* 352 -73

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the HighPoint.com 400 from Pocono Raceway

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 11 Denny Hamlin 160
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. 1.239 160
3 45 Tyler Reddick 1.906 160
4 4 Kevin Harvick 2.453 160
5 54 Ty Gibbs 2.621 160
6 20 Christopher Bell 3.241 160
7 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 3.556 160
8 21 Harrison Burton 4.707 160
9 43 Erik Jones 5.460 160
10 9 Chase Elliott 5.994 160
11 10 Aric Almirola 6.301 160
12 23 Bubba Wallace 6.314 160
13 1 Ross Chastain 6.843 160
14 24 William Byron 7.571 160
15 38 Todd Gilliland 8.224 160
16 6 Brad Keselowski 8.774 160
17 16 AJ Allmendinger 9.325 160
18 17 Chris Buescher 10.045 160
19 34 Michael McDowell 10.617 160
20 42 Noah Gragson 11.096 160
21 5 Kyle Larson 11.098 160
22 8 Kyle Busch 11.147 160
23 48 Alex Bowman 11.417 160
24 2 Austin Cindric 11.521 160
25 51 Cole Custer 12.204 160
26 15 JJ Yeley 12.262 160
27 7 Corey LaJoie 15.161 160
28 77 Ty Dillon 15.329 160
29 14 Chase Briscoe 16.246 160
30 12 Ryan Blaney 17.591 160
31 41 Ryan Preece -1 159
32 78 BJ McLeod -1 159
33 31 Justin Haley -7 153
34 3 Austin Dillon -55 105
35 22 Joey Logano -112 48
36 99 Daniel Suarez -123 37