With seven laps remaining, Denny Hamlin outlasted Kyle Larson in a challenging door-to-door bump-and-go pass to win Sunday's HighPoint.com 400 and secure an all-time record seventh NASCAR Cup Series victory at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. It was Hamlin's 50th career victory and second of the 2023 campaign.
The Pocono fans expressed its dissatisfaction by booing loudly when Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led the field to pit road at the 2.5-mile track after the race was called due to an incident on the track during the final lap. The 42-year-old Hamlin insisted that there was only close-quarter racing for the victory. After the incident, Larson, who placed 21st overall, disagreed and wasn't too pleased with his good friend and golf partner.
Regarding Larson and a conversation he had previously with Larson's teammate Alex Bowman, Hamlin said, "Both guys wrecked themselves." A lane was present. You have the option in such places to either hold it wide open and hit the fence or lift and race it out since he [Larson] missed the corner first and obviously didn't have his right side tires clean.
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"They made those decisions. I avoided striking either of them. avoided touching them.
In response to the jeers, Hamlin yelled, "I love it, I love it."
"I believed our car was the greatest, and the plan succeeded. Just ecstatic that we're winning the races we ought to win.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson didn't hold back as he spoke after exiting his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Instead of a top-5 showing or potential victory, he bounced back to place 21st at the line.
First of all, I'm incredibly proud of my team because they put us in a position to compete for the victory,'' said Larson, who earned his third victory of the year by winning Stage 2. The vehicle was never really the same after we spun off early in the race, but we played the plan incredibly effectively to get us there. Just a shame.
"Throughout my career, he has lost me many excellent finishes, and I am aware that he claims I race a particular way, but I don't believe I have ever had to apologize to him for anything; not that I'm certain he will say 'I'm sorry' after this, but it is what it is.
"Just go on and try to travel to Richmond, where we have had success.
"What is is what is. We are pals, yes. Yes, this causes some awkwardness. He's always right, though. Denny is consistently correct, as his friends all know. What is, is what is. I won't let it throw our friendship off course. But despite feeling like I ought to be angry, I am angry.
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With regard to future races against Hamlin on the track, Larson said, "I think at this point I have the right." I've mentioned it before, but I've never had to ask his forgiveness for anything I did to him on the racetrack. I can think of four or five occasions when he had to apologize to me for putting me in a difficult situation. In order to regain people's respect, you must finally begin racing them in a particular manner, as he claims.
Hamlin led Martin Truex Jr. across the finish line for Joe Gibbs Racing, giving Toyota its 600th career victory across all three NASCAR national championships. Third place went to Tyler Reddick, a driver for the 23XI Racing Toyota team that Hamlin owns a portion of. Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing and the final two JGR vehicles, driven by rookies Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell, completed the top 6.
The top three finishers were Hendrick's Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Harrison Burton. The 22-year-old Burton was in the top 10 for the second time this season. With five more regular season races left for the 2020 series champion to compete for another trophy after missing six in 2023, Elliott's effort drops him 59 points outside the 16-driver Playoff pool.
William Byron, the race polesitter and teammate of Elliott, led the most laps (60) of the day but came in 24th. He is currently 30 points behind Truex for the regular-season championship.
In the final 30 to 40 laps of the race, different pit strategies, particularly on the final green flag run, shifted the leaderboard. Some drivers who hadn't finished in the top five all day postponed their last pit stop in anticipation of a caution. However, the day's top-performing cars were in contention to claim the championship; some, like Larson and Hamlin, had pitted on two tires, while others, like Truex and Byron, had four brand-new tires.
On the day, there were 11 cautions, and following the Stage 1 break, events on three consecutive restarts had an effect on the Playoff scenarios of several drivers.
Joey Logano, the Stage 1 winner, and Daniel Suarez, of Trackhouse Racing, who entered the race just one point behind Michael McDowell for the 16th and final Playoff slot, were all engaged in the first restart after the Stage break. McDowell was able to continue driving despite some damage to his vehicle. Suarez's No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet required significant repairs and ultimately had to be driven back to the garage while Logano's No. 22 Penske Racing Ford was hauled back and fixed.
Suarez slid to 18th in the championship standings with five races remaining, and McDowell is now 23 points ahead of him.
The collision was a racing issue, but we shouldn't be racing those guys, remarked a furious Suarez. "At the end of the day it's our fault, squirrels," he added. Only what we can control is under our control.
The Cook Out 400, which will take place on Sunday at Richmond (Virginia) Raceway at 3 p.m. (USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), will continue the summer stretch to the Playoffs the following week. The reigning champion of the race is Kevin Harvick. This spring, Kyle Larson triumphed at Richmond.