ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Matt Slocum / NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin smiles after winning Sunday's Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

LONG POND, Pa. — Round 2 at Pocono Raceway went to Denny Hamlin, who again stepped into the spotlight at the Pennsyvania track — and not just in a figurative sense.

Officials had to set up lights in victory lane after the NASCAR Cup Series race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval ended in the dark Sunday night.

The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran held off Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick to win the second Cup Series race of the weekend at the Tricky Triangle and flip the 1-2 finish of the opener from Saturday, a clear sign two of the best drivers in the sport are poised again to make a championship push.

Bring it on, Hamlin said.

"We just want to get to the final four with a chance," Hamlin said of the push to make the championship field for the season finale.

Hamlin, 39, has four Cup Series wins this season — he won the season-opening Daytona 500, at Darlington Raceway in mid-May as competition resumed after a three-month shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic and two weeks ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway — while Harvick, 44, has three as they start to separate themselves from the rest of the field.

Hamlin is racking up milestones as he chases his first Cup Series season championship. Sunday's win was the 41st of his Cup Series career, moving him to 19th on the all-time list, and his sixth at Pocono, matching NASCAR Hall of Famer for most Cup Series victories at the track.

"It's hard to believe because we went through such a dry spell there in the middle of my career," Hamlin said about his Pocono results.

Pocono doesn't have lights for its mammoth track, but the pit road numbers were lit up and glowed as Hamlin won for the second straight year at Pocono.

Hamlin had a vibration in his No. 11 Toyota late in Saturday's race that hindered his attempt to catch Harvick down the stretch. About 25 hours later, Hamlin surged past Harvick and built a nearly three-second lead; Harvick's serious run at the victory slowed because of a loose wheel.

"Our car was actually better today than it was yesterday," Harvick said. "We had to run in a lot of traffic there, and Denny kept ticking off laps."

some text
AP photo by Matt Slocum / Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin crosses the finish line as the checkered flag waves during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series clash at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

It all closed a historic day as NASCAR pulled off its first single-day, single-track tripleheader.

The feat was attempted only because Saturday's Truck Series race was postponed by inclement weather, and Sunday's Cup Series race was delayed by lightning and rain, as much a part of Pocono as a Joe Gibbs Racing driver taking the checkered flag. The JGR roster has drivers responsible for six of the past seven Cup Series wins at the Pennsylvania speedway.

Only six laps were in the book when the field was red flagged for nearly 51 minutes because of rain. NASCAR ran several pace laps before the event finally went green around 6:15 p.m., and then it was a race against darkness to complete the full 350 miles.

"I hate to feel disappointed in a second and a first, but man, I felt like I should have won both races," Hamlin said.

They ran six laps before the race was red-flagged nearly 51 minutes because or rain. NASCAR ran several pace laps before the race finally went green around 6:15 p.m. It was a race against darkness to complete the full 350 miles.

Erik Jones was third, Chase Elliott fourth and Aric Almirola was fifth.

Harvick won Saturday's race and put the brakes on a burnout. He had to save that engine for another run in the same SHR No. 4 Ford, and the starting lineup was inverted Sunday based on lead lap finishers Saturday, so Harvick started 20th.

Brandon Jones opened Sunday's action with a win in the third-tier Truck Series race, and Chase Briscoe won the second-tier Xfinity Series race.

Harvick was a fan of having Cup Series races on back-to-back days.

"I think everybody would be super happy with a much shorter season and multiple doubleheaders," the 2014 season champion said.

NASCAR's hope to capitalize on being almost the only major event to run live every week with sports on pause in the wake of the pandemic has been besieged by bad weather. Sunday marked the ninth Cup Series race out of 15 this season with a weather delay, and three have been moved a full day, including the season-opening Daytona 500 attended by President Donald Trump. It's hard to keep TV viewers interested when its a parade of Air Titans instead of a mad dash to the checkered flag.

Pocono is notorious for rainy weekends, though, and in 2016 had two Cup Series races and an IndyCar race all washed out and run on Monday. The "Need Help or Info?" signs around the track went unneeded as the only thing in the grandstands was rain.

It put yet another damper on seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson's farewell season.

Johnson, a three-time winner at Pocono, was honored by the track over the weekend. Pocono painted "Jimmie" on one side of the start/finish line and added a painted "48 Jimmie Johnson" rock to the infield collection of race legends, and his two young daughters gave the command for the driver's to start their engines.

Wrote Johnson on Twitter: "Yes I'm biased but that was the best command to start engines. Ever."

He finished 16th, but he also gave some inspiration to Hamlin.

"Maybe one day I'll get one of those black rocks they've got here for all those good guys that have won it," Hamlin said.

He might — especially if he can pass Gordon's mark at the track. Hamlin believes he has plenty of time and talent left in the tank.

Said Hamlin: "I don't think this is the last one."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT