LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Denny Hamlin chalked up his record seventh win at Pocono Raceway — “Eight, right?” he quipped — to nothing more than coming out ahead after a hard, respectful duel with Kyle Larson over the furious final laps.
Hamlin’s take: His Toyota held firm in the middle lane while Larson’s Chevrolet ran out of room on the outside when it got choked in a tight aerodynamic situation and sailed into the wall.
Larson’s view: His so-called good buddy Hamlin ran him up the track, smashed him into the wall and derailed his chance at the win.
Larson was furious. Hamlin shrugged it off. After all, he had the win at Pocono — and this time it counted.
Hamlin returned to victory lane Sunday a year after his first-place finish was thrown out, giving him a track-record seven wins and 50 overall in his Cup career.
Hamlin won for the second time this season and also gave Toyota its 600th NASCAR victory. Afterward, he stood firm that he did not even brush Larson.
“I’m not here to defend anything,” Hamlin said. “How can you wreck someone you don’t touch?”
Hamlin passed Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon — for the second straight year — for most wins at the tri-oval track. Hamlin and his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch had their 1-2 finishes stripped a year ago by NASCAR for aerodynamics violations.
That made Hamlin the first disqualified Cup winner since April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina was thrown out because of an oversized fuel tank.
“That was a bitter disappointment for us last year,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “Hopefully today, that’s not going to be the case and we get through inspection.”
They did. Hamlin laughed as he referenced the reason for the DQ, saying, “there’s no tape on the car this time.”
But Hamlin might have to go to the videotape to see if his No. 11 Toyota really did make contact with Larson. The pair bumped and battled over the final laps before the three-time Daytona 500 winner pulled away on the final restart and won with the caution flag out.
“Damn, man, we’re all racing for a win and I guarantee you, roles reversed, it goes the same way,” Hamlin said.
The sold-out crowd — Pocono’s largest since 2010 — showered Hamlin with boos.
“I love it,” Hamlin said. “They can boo my rock out of here in a few years.”
Pocono paints rocks outside the garage to honor of some of NASCAR’s greats, such as Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. Hamlin swept two races at Pocono in his rookie season in 2006, and added wins in 2009, 2010, 2019 and 2020.
Larson faded to 20th and blamed Hamlin for shooting the No. 5 Chevrolet into the wall.
“I’ve never had to apologize to him about anything, anything I’ve done on the racetrack,” Larson said. “I can count four or five times where he’s had to reach out to me, ‘Oh, man, I’m sorry I put you in a bad spot there.’ Eventually, like he says, you have to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back.”
Hamlin won his 50th race in 635 career Cup starts spent entirely with Gibbs.
“He has been so loyal to us,” Gibbs said. “We went through one half of a year with Denny racing in Xfinity. We were struggling with our Cup car and we put him in there. It’s been going on 18 years.”
Tyler Reddick was second and Martin Truex Jr., who won last week at New Hampshire, was third. Kevin Harvick and Ty Gibbs rounded out the top five.
Austin Dillon chucked his helmet at former teammate Reddick’s car after the two were involved in a wreck. Dillon’s Ford slammed into the wall and its passenger side crumpled. Dillon threw his helmet as he walked off the track.
“I was just trying to hit him,” Dillon said. “They’re going probably 65. If I had started at the front of the car, I might have got him at the door.”
OH, WHAT A FEELING!
Toyota now has 177 wins in the Cup Series, 196 in the Xfinity Series and 227 in the Truck Series.
Joe Gibbs Racing is Toyota’s winningest organization with 148 wins in Cup and 190 in Xfinity since Gibbs and Toyota partnered together in 2008. Kyle Busch has 203 victories with Toyota and Hamlin has 61.
CAUGHT IN THE UNDERTOW
Joey Logano’s rough race ended with a bumpy ride to pit road. Logano, who won the first stage, later hit the wall, blew four tires and finished 35th. The Team Penske driver criticized NASCAR for the jittery ride to the pits in his Ford and said the tow truck caused additional damage to the car.
“You get this long, horrible ride back. It’s rough,” Logano said. “Your head’s bouncing around in there. It’s stupid. It’s just really dumb that we can’t just put four tires on a truck. I saw a whole bunch of them earlier today. … It’s not fun for anybody. The poor guy driving the tow truck. The poor driver getting his head knocked around for 2 miles and the poor team that’s got to fix the underbodies of these things after they’re dragged around.”
SHE WEARS THE FIRESUIT
Logano took a jab at Kevin Harvick after a run-in at the 2010 Pocono race, saying, “It’s probably not his fault, you know, his wife wears the firesuit in the family.”
The quip has lived on in NASCAR circles but the feud between the two Cup champions has long since dissipated. Harvick, in his final NASCAR season, sold T-shirts this year for charity that read “I wear the firesuit in this family.” Harvick gave a $12,000 check from money raised from the sale to Logano for his charity foundation. Harvick’s young daughter wore a firesuit on Sunday with the slogan across the front.
NASCAR heads to Richmond. Larson won the race in April while Harvick is the defending winner of last summer’s race.