Monday, June 24, 2024

Denny Hamlin clashes with Larson, wins at Pocono

Pocono Raceway is not exactly known as a track where feelings are hurt, but that was certainly the case after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.

Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson battled for the lead in the final ten laps, leading to Hamlin pushing Larson up the track into the wall on lap 154. Larson expressed his displeasure by bumping into Hamlin shortly after the caution came out for Justin Haley‘s wreck.

As Hamlin cruised to the win, Larson was relegated to twentieth after leading twenty-four laps.

“He’s still a friend. Race me like an asshole but still a friend. I’m just mad right now,” Larson commented in his post-race availibity. “I’ve never had to reach out to him to apologise. I never had to. I can’t think of one time where I’m like, ‘Man, Denny, sorry I hurt your day’ or ‘Sorry I ended your day.’ There’s four or five times he’s had to reach out to me over the nine years I’ve racing in the Cup Series to apologise. […] I’m an agressive racer, I get it, but I tend to race my friends with more respect. I just feel like I haven’t gotten that respect from him especially this year.”

Although it was not from contact, Hamlin was also involved in an earlier incident with Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman when the latter’s airflow got disrupted while racing Hamlin and caused him to get loose into a spin. Hamlin has developed a rather polarising reputation for his outspokenness—which semi-directly led to a points penalty earlier in the season—and his victory was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd.

Hamlin refuted Larson’s claims in his conference, saying he “ran me off a bunch of road courses and called me and said sorry. I said, ‘I’m going to stand my ground next time.’ I’m not here to defend anything. I put both those guys, the #48 (Bowman) and #5 (Larson), in an aero situation. Didn’t touch either one. How can you wreck someone you don’t touch? They make a decision to either let off the gas and race side by side, or hit the gas and hit the wall. I put them to those decisions. I didn’t overshoot the corner. I was behind. I tried to get position on him, knew it was going to be tight off of two, but always made sure I left a lane or more, more than a lane.

“I knew once he got the lead and it was green, there was no way I was going to go around him, so I backed off and just waited, tried not to burn up my shit for a restart later because he knows how to put you in a situation to just kill your car. We waited. We pounced at the right time. He didn’t get his right sides clean, drove in the corner just too far, let us get beside him. I thought we were going to race it out off of two. He got in the fence.

“We’re racing for the win. Are you shitting me? For sure, if I’m going to give anyone the respect, it’s Kyle Larson just because I respect him as a race car driver, and I think he’s probably the best. Certainly, he’s got my respect. But, damn, I mean, we’re all racing for a win. I guarantee you, roles reversed, it goes the same way.”

The victory is Hamlin’s 50th in his Cup career, the 600th for Toyota in all three national divisions, and his seventh at Pocono. He also took an eighth checkered flag there in 2022 before being disqualified, to which he remarked there was “no tape on the car this time” to take it away.

Haley’s crash resulted in overtime, from which Hamlin held his position as Toyota team-mates Tyler Reddick and Martin Truex Jr. gave chase. The race ended under yellow after Ryan Preece got turned by Corey LaJoie coming to the white flag, prompting Preece to confront LaJoie by going to his car and shouting expletives into the cockpit before being separated by LaJoie’s crew.

NASCAR did not immediately order a caution after Preece’s car came to rest, which would have ended the race, and instead waited until the leaders came back around. When the sanctioning body noticed Preece was still immobilised as Hamlin neared, the yellow flag was finally waved.

The race was relatively clean to start with J.J. Yeley‘s spin on lap six being the lone incident of the first stage. However, drama quickly unfolded in the second segment as crashes occurred in turn one moments after the restart three consecutive times, one of which eliminated Stage #1 winner Joey Logano.

While he survived the Stage #2 onslaught, Austin Dillon was taken out by contact with Reddick on lap 104. Dillon subsequently threw his helmet at his former team-mate’s car as he drove by under yellow.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 8 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
2 7 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 160 Running
3 2 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
4 4 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 160 Running
5 11 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
6 5 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
7 22 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 160 Running
8 26 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 160 Running
9 24 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 160 Running
10 35 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
11 10 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 160 Running
12 27 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 160 Running
13 21 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 160 Running
14 1 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
15 36 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 160 Running
16 13 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 160 Running
17 16 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 160 Running
18 18 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 160 Running
19 15 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 160 Running
20 3 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
21 25 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 160 Running
22 32 42 Noah Gragson Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 160 Running
23 9 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 160 Running
24 20 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
25 31 51 Cole Custer* Rick Ware Racing Ford 160 Running
26 28 15 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Ford 160 Running
27 12 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
28 33 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
29 29 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 160 Running
30 14 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 160 Running
31 34 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 159 Running
32 30 78 B.J. McLeod Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 159 Running
33 19 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 153 Accident
34 23 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 105 Accident
35 6 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 48 DVP
36 17 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 37 Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points