Redemption Song: Emotional Denny Hamlin Wins at Pocono
"It feels like we've been here a month," Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said before the start of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway.
While it hadn't been a month, rain put a damper on nearly the entire race weekend, pushing the race from Sunday to a cloudless Monday afternoon.
Last week's winner Jimmie Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon led the field to the green flag. A drag race for the lead between them instantly ensued, with Johnson getting out to an early lead.
By lap three, points leader Tony Stewart, who had to start in the back due to a practice crash, had made his way to 34th. Side by racing occurred throughout the field, the outside line prevailing during battles between Hamlin and Kurt Busch, and Biffle and the younger Busch brother, Kyle. Johnson had stretched his lead to nearly two seconds over Gordon.
However, on lap 12 Stewart began losing spots and made a pit stop thinking he had a tire going down. The No. 14 Old Spice crew found that all four tires on the car were up.
Johnson's two second lead dissolved when NASCAR threw a competition caution on lap 21. It was Denny Hamlin, though, with a 13.5 second pit stop who won the race off of pit road. The No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet fell to third.
On the outside, Hamlin led the field to the green flag on lap 26 and began pulling away fromt he field.
Bump drafting at Pocono? It was in full effect in the heated battle for ninth between the No. 18 of Kyle Busch and the No. 5 of Mark Martin; Busch passed Martin with help from Juan Pablo Montoya.
On lap 30 teammates Gordon and Johnson battled side by side for second, with Johnson passing Gordon on the inside. Further in the pack Tony Stewart was busy battling back from his lap 12 pit stop, running 33rd in the midst of traffic.
Ten laps later the field began to spread out, with Hamlin extending his lead over the No. 48 to over a second.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pits on lap 53 after dropping six spots to 19th. He believed he had a tire going down, and lost a lap right as the caution came out for Paul Menard's tire issues the following lap. The Richard Childress Racing cars of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, who were both running in the top 15, also hit pit road under green.
The leaders once again hit pit road on lap 55 at 55 miles per hour, with Hamlin and the No. 11 Fed Ex team retained their lead. Stewart, who had stayed in 32nd spot since the previous set of stops, stayed on pit road unhooking the sway bar, among other changes, to fix his ill handling race car.
Hamlin leads them to the green flag after John Andretti pits on lap 57, but Johnson begins to close up on him while Montoya, Kahne and Kyle Busch jockey for position further back in the top ten.
Two laps after the restart, NASCAR warned Hamlin to stay in line until the green flag is thrown.
A caution light coming off caused the third caution of the day on lap 62, and Menard, who brought out the second caution was named the lucky dog.
The leaders opted to stay on track while several drivers 17th place and back, like Earnhardt, Jr., Reutimann, and a still struggling Stewart came in and made pit stops. The No. 31 of Burton was the first of the cars that pitted off of pit road.
"This race is too long," second place Johnson told his crew chief.
"Yeah, but that's good for guys like you," Chad Knaus told Johnson. He also told Johnson to start thinking about fuel.
Hamlin, staying in his outside line, took the green flag on lap 67, and a drag race started between the top two, Gordon pushing his teammate to no avail. The No. 24 would lose six spots on the restart and fall back to sixth.
Greg Biffle running 11th tagged the wall before making it three wide at the start finish line with Newman and the No. 83 of Vickers. Initially falling back, Biffle would go on to pass Vickers.
Once again the cars become spread out on lap 80. Stewart, though, had started to make up positions and found himself in 28th. While it looked as if Johnson was making ground on the leader, he fell back to a 1.4 second deficit.
The No. 24 began made a four tire stop and made a track bar adjustment. Truex, Jr. also made a stop.
On lap 89 Hamlin, Johnson and Edwards made their pit stops. The cars that pit on the earlier caution-- Reutimann, Ambrose, Kenseth, and David Ragan—all led laps before making pit stops. By lap 96 Hamlin retook the lead ahead of Johnson, Edwards and Stewart, who had yet to pit. Kahne rounded out the top five.
The fourth caution of the day came out on lap 96 for the No. 96 of Bobby Labonte; Stewart was on pit road, took four tires, and restarted in seventh.
Kasey Kahne didn't pit, along with the six cars behind him (Stewart didn't pit with the leaders), and took the leader when they went green on lap 102. Hamlin, Gordon, and Edwards made it three wide for position.
The running order as it shakes out is Kahne, Reutimann, and Kenseth as the top three. Johnson restarted 18th, and gained a couple of spots when he made it three wide with rookie Joey Logano and teammate Mark Martin.
An absolutely crazy couple of laps after the restart as drivers went two and three wide for position.
Former leader Johnson falls back from 18th to 26th, bringing his car down on pit road on lap 106. He then told the crew "I'm starting to blow the engine right now." His crew opened the hood but sent the car back out on track. The No. 48 stayed in front of Kahne, though, remaining on the lead lap.
He was lapped on lap 110, and continued to lose speed. Johnson told his crew he believed something was wrong with the carburetor.
Kahne meanwhile had a 1.5 second lead over second place Reutimann; because of pit strategy Amrbose and David Ragan cracked the top ten. The Stewart Haas Racing teammates of Newman and Stewart ran ninth and tenth.
NASCAR warned Johnson and the No. 48 team that he needed to pick up speed or he would be black flagged.
Things were quiet up front, but anything but for the No. 18 of Busch, who dropped three positions to Harvick, Montoya and David Stremme.
Hamlin passed Reutimann for second on lap 121, and began a charge to become the race leader for the the third time.
On lap 127 Jamie McMurray began green flag pit stops with a four time stop. Leader Kahne and Reutimann also made his pit stops. That put Hamlin back into the lead.
On lap 132 Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Stewart, Earnhardt, Jr. and Newman pit. The following lap Hamlin, Gordon and Edwards were among the leaders that pit.
After leader Harvick made a pit stop on lap 133, Kahne retook the lead ahead of Hamlin, Reutimann, Kurt Busch and Kenseth.
On lap 138 Hamlin began a charge for the lead, passing him after a side by side battle on lap 139.
The fifth caution of the race came out on lap 142 when the No. 6 UPS Ford of David Ragan made contact with the wall. Paul Menard received the lucky dog for the third time.
Before pit road opened, Johnson came in so his crew could go under the hood of his car. The No. 48 was already two laps down.
Tire strategy came into play when the leaders hit pit road; Hamlin, Edwards, Kurt Busch, Gordon, Biffle, Kenseth, Harvick and Kyle Busch elected to take just two tires while Kahne took four. He fell nine spots because of the decision.
Johnson came in for a second time to change the carburetor. Martin, Vickers, Jeff Burton and Sam Hornish, Jr. all stayed on track.
Martin, who started on the outside, took the green flag on lap on lap 146.
Another crazy restart as drivers like Montoya, Newman and Allmendinger make the racing three wide. Kenseth, Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch also made things three wide for the twelth position.
Threading the needle, Kahne, who restarted 13th, passed Harvick and Hornish, Jr. in the middle for eighth.
On lap 148 Robby Gordon spins and brings out the sixth caution. The No. 12 of Stremme also made contact with Gordon.
With fifty laps left in the race the leaders elected to stay out. Johnson made two pit stops; one to change several plugs in the engine, and another for forgetting a hood pin. Because of that, Johnson wasn't awarded the lucky dog.
Leader Martin took the green flag on lap 153. A lap later Kurt Busch took the lead for the first time during the race, and began jumping out to a substantial lead.
Robby Gordon, who blamed David Stremme for his earlier incident, was spun out by the No. 12 to bring out the day's seventh caution on lap 157.
"Hm... that might get a trip to the truck," commentator Dale Jarrett said. And he was close; both cars involved were given a five lap penalty for their actions.
Earnhardt, Jr., Logano and Stewart were among the twenty cars to hit pit road under the caution. On lap 162 Busch took the green flag on yet another crazy restart. Hamlin, who ran sixth on the restart, was going to come in on that past caution; he felt he had a problem.
On lap 166 caution came out again for debris in turn three. Earnhardt, Jr. and Stewart came off pit road first by taking fuel only, but several cars, including Montoya and Bowyer, pit before the caution came out, and it was Bowyer who stayed out and took the lead. Hamlin lost four spots on pit road by taking four tires.
Bowyer and second place Scott Speed took the green flag with thirty laps to go. Montoya began his charge to take the lead as the No. 20 of Logano pits for a flat tire.
On lap 173 Kyle Busch got all bent out of shape and hit the wall, but kept going. Gordon and Edwards, 12th and 13th, continued to trade barbs.
Big trouble on lap 174 when Reutimann and Ambrose, who was running in the top ten, crash. Hamlin got into the back of Reutimann, who collected an innocent Ambrose. A ton of debris was left on the track.
Oh, and the lucky dog? Jimmie Johnson, which put him back on the lead lap.
Bowyer was told he would be good to go on fuel, while several cars in the back of the pack, including Kyle Busch who had damage on the right side of his No. 18 Toyota, pit for tires.
On lap 179 Bowyer took the green flag, and an absolutely drag race between he and Montoya followed. The two ran side by side, but a bump from Hornish pushed Bowyer ot the lead.
Montoya fell to fifth after going three wide with Kenseth and Kahne.
Pocono had it's version of the "Big One"; with just 20 laps to go when the No. 6 car of Ragan rammed into the back of Bobby Labonte. The cars of Sorenson, Waltrip and Logano were also collected in the melee, the hardest hit being Labonte but he was okay.
Sorenson and Labonte both went to the garage, while Logano stayed on track and made several pit stops for repairs.
"I know we can win the freakin' race, but if it means wrecking the car, it's not gonna happen," Montoya told crew chief Brian Patti under caution. Montoya got a tire rub and damage on the front of his car while he raced with Bowyer on the previous pit stop.
Bowyer chose once again to start on the outside as the cars came to the green with thirteen laps to go.
An absolutely crazy restart ensues; as Bowyer pulls out Kenseth made it three wide on the inside of Kahne, who makes contact with Montoya.
The No. 42 saves his car though, and the racing somewhat settles down. Johnson, who had engine problems early in the race and got two lucky dog awards, passed Kyle Busch for 19th.
With eleven laps to go Hamlin closed in on Bowyer with Montoya in toe while Kurt Busch and Gordon continue to battle for eleventh.
Hamlin went to the inside of Bowyer, making contact before taking the lead, but Montoya stayed within reach of both cars.
Montoya then took second from Bowyer with nine laps to go after Bowyer got loose, and set his sites on the leader.
Despite his hard charging, there was nothing Montoya could do as Hamlin put a second distance between the two of them with just four laps to go.
The last time Hamlin was in Pocono, he had trouble on the very first lap, and finished 22 laps down in 38th. Today, redemption as Hamlin took the checkered flag.
"We come close in a lot of races this year and came up short. Definitely had some angels with us today," a tearful Hamlin said. Hamlin, visibly emotional lost his grandmother earlier in the week.
"I'm just thinking of my mom right now," he said, before burying his face into a towel.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished 11th after dominating last week at the Brickyard, came home second. Bowyer came home third, and is now 115 points out of making the Chase.
A nice surprise was Sam Hornish, Jr. who ended the race fourth. Another was Jimmie Johnson, who went from three laps down to finishing 13th, and Stewart, who ran in the thirties for much of the afternoon, finished top ten.
Tony Stewart gained five points on Johnson, leading him by 197 points. Fifth through 12th changed hands; Hamlin, Kenseth, Montoya and Kahne all gained spots while Martin, Biffle, and Kenseth lost spots. Kyle Busch remains out of the Chase, and is 101 points out of the final Chase spot.
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