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Wow, what a finish! Denny Hamlin looks championship-ready in rallying to win a wild, bizarre Pocono 500

Denny Hamlin edging teammate Kyle Busch at the finish of a wild, wild Pocono 500. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   What had been pretty much a ho-hum Pocono 500 for some three hours turned wild, violent, bizarre and angry in the final minutes.
   "The restarts were just idiotic all day....I saw some of the worst driving I've ever seen in a professional series right here today," Tony Stewart charged.
   "So for anyone looking for drama the next few races, start looking....because I promise you I'm going to start making the highlight reels the next couple of weeks."
   Denny Hamlin, dominant and aggressive, and yes even brilliant at times, pulled off his fourth win of the spring, by four lengths over teammate Kyle Busch.
   But Hamlin and Busch both had to fight back in the final 50 miles through a scrambled pack after some late pit stops put the day's leaders deep in the field and thrust Sam Hornish Jr. unexpected on the point and put Stewart suddenly in contention too. "Actually we're being conservative right now, though it might not look like that," Hamlin said. "We still looking to peak at the right time, for the playoffs. What helps me is I have such good cars that I can run them 80 percent and still stay up with everyone. And then when I need to push it a little harder, I can."
   The four-hour race, delayed nearly two hours by a hard rainstorm, was a battle between the Joe Gibbs' men – Hamlin, Busch and even surprising Joey Logano – and the Richard Childress men – Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
   Denny Hamlin passes Sam Hornish for the lead, with 12 laps to go and was pulling away down the stretch, when Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano – who have had run-ins before – tangled while fighting for fifth, Harvick trying to get around Logano, as Hamlin headed toward the white flag.

    Joey Logano spins after tangling with Kevin Harvick...an incident which NASCAR officials talked over with the two after the race (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 

   Logano wound up in the wall, and very hot at Harvick.
   But Hamlin backed off too soon, and he hadn't taken the white when the yellow came out for Harvick and Logano. That sent the game into overtime, with a green-white-checkered two-lap shootout, giving Stewart and Busch one final shot at Hamlin.
    "I probably could have gotten to that white flag sooner, but I sort of backed off a little," Hamlin said. "I was right there.
   "I asked Mike if we needed to conserve fuel two laps earlier. He said no, 'You get that white flag as quick as you can.'
   "So I did. And I was maybe 100 yards from the white flag when the caution came out. Then I didn't know what line to be in for the restart, inside or out. And I was worried about both Kyle and Tony."
   Hamlin got a good jump on the restart and was pulling away again when the biggest crash of day occurred, on the backside of the triangular track, when AJ Allmendinger blocked teammate Kasey Kahne into the grass. Kahne shot back across the track in front of the field, and he was hit by several cars and was launched almost up on the wall. Also caught up in the mess: Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, and Elliott Sadler.
   Fortunately none of them was seriously injured, though there were some frightening moments.
   NASCAR didn't throw another yellow, though, letting Stewart and Busch chase Hamlin to the line, futilely.
   The race was quite orderly most of the afternoon, with few cautions or incidents. However gas mileage was looming as an issue late, as it typically is here.
   And a key moment in the race came when, on a yellow on lap 168 of the scheduled 200-lapper for Jamie McMurray's spin with David Ragan, the six-pack of strong leaders all pitted to top-off with gas to ensure they could make it the last 75 miles.
   At that yellow Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were the lead pack, and they had the strongest cars (though something later apparently went wrong with Burton's car).
    A number of others, though, had already made a top-off stop earlier, and thus they didn't have to stop then. So when the leaders pitted, the top eight for the restart on lap 172, were eight men who hadn't been in the game all day: Sam Hornish Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Regan Smith, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
    And the strongest cars were buried deep in the field.


Strange, violent weather, including heavy rain and a tornado watch, marred the early afternoon and delayed the start of the Pocono 500. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   But a caution for debris a few miles later gave those earlier leaders a break, with the double-file restart moving them closer to the front.
   Hamlin and Busch both put on daring charges, while the Childress men got stuck. And Hamlin, after a hard fight to get around Stewart for second, finally got around Hornish for the lead with 12 laps to go.
    Hamlin again pulled away, and Busch couldn't get around Stewart in time to make a run at Hamlin.
    "We didn't want to give up track position, but we had to stop for fuel," Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief, said.
    Hamlin was the pre-race favorite, and he showed why, early and late.
   But it was the performance of his two teammates, Busch and Logano, that was striking. At one point in the final moments the Gibbs' three were looking at finishing in the top-five.
   The Logano-Harvick run-in led to a heated pit road post-race confrontation between the two drivers and two crews, a confrontation that appeared on the verge of getting physical. Logano got out of his car and charged toward Harvick. Logano's crew tried to restrain him, but Logano came close to breaking loose. Harvick's crew quickly surrounded their own driver. The words were hot.
    Joe Gibbs: "I think we've missed (seeing) the fire in Joey (until now). He's controls himself, He rarely gets out of control. And this was perhaps his best race. It was a shame it was taken away from him at the end.
   "I know they're meeting with NASCAR, and I'll be interested to see how that shakes out."
   Kyle Busch himself was rather satisfied with his day: "Denny just has this place figured out, and I'm doing the best I can," Busch said. "I went from an F here to an A, but an A just didn't get it done.
   "Denny and I were two of the best cars in the field, along with Clint Bowyer."
   Bowyer was an early casualty, slapped the wall, and it took him most of the day to recover, though
   The last restart? "I felt if I was going to have a shot at him I figured I had to get beside him going into turn one, but Denny just barreled down into turn one," Busch said.
   For Stewart, who hasn't been very happy lately anyway, it was another mediocre day, though a good finish. "Not a very stellar day, by any means, though we did wind up in the top-three," Stewart, mired far off the pace most of the afternoon, said. "I feel there's light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still a long way away."
                                     The finishing order for Sunday's Pocono 500


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   Winner Denny Hamlin does a smokey burnout after his fourth win of the season...and drew a short rebuke from his team after smacking the wall in celebration (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I usually don't watch the

I usually don't watch the Pocono races because they're too long and usually boring but when there's a wreck....IT'S A WRECK! Glad everyone was okay, but was Marcus Ambrose okay after that hit on the inside wall? I noticed that the inside retaining wall on the backstretch is armco steel against solid earth. What sense does that make? Pocono will always to me be the most dangerous track on the tour. And they need to lose a race too.

As usual WScott34 is wrong.

As usual WScott34 is wrong. First of all, Pocono is not too long. Second, it has better racing than most tracks and showed it again with this Pocono 500. Third, as bad as that Kahne wreck was, I've seen worse at Atlanta (Steve Grissom for one, 1998's epidemic of injuries for another), Texas, Charlotte, and Bristol. Fourth, the only tracks that warrant losing a race are Atlanta (bad sports market in general), Bristol (the worst oval on the tour), Martinsville (a weakening racing demographic), and the road courses (the worst tracks on ANY racing tour). Pocono belongs with two dates, now and always.

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