Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Thanks to a fast No. 11 Toyota, a feel for fuel economy and a first-ever application of traction compound to the asphalt at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin rediscovered the magic at the Tricky Triangle that marked his spectacular debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006.
Leading a 1-2-3 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers—none of whom, surprisingly, was Kyle Busch—Hamlin passed teammate and race runner-up Erik Jones on Lap 144 and saved enough fuel to last through an overtime that carried the event three laps beyond its scheduled distance of 160 circuits.
Hamlin won for the fifth time at the 2.5-mile triangular track after a nine-year absence from Victory Lane. The victory was Hamlin’s third of the season and the 34th of his career.
After losing a last-lap battle to Kevin Harvick last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin made what turned out to be the winning pass on the outside of turn 3, where had the PJ1 traction compound had been applied.
“You just want to know that you’re a race winner,” said Hamlin, who turned heads in his 2006 rookie season with two wins from the pole at Pocono. “You just want to know that you can contend for wins. Yeah, you’re looking for momentum, but you’re just looking for wins week-in and week-out.
“We really fought for it last week and came up short, so it feels really good to kind of redeem ourselves this week and have such a strong car. Once we got behind there, we were able to make up positions on the 19 (third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr.) and 20 (Jones).”
Hamlin last pitted for fuel under caution on Lap 115, after Ryan Preece clobbered the Turn 1 wall to bring out the fifth of seven yellows. All three of the JGR cars were saving gas during the final run.
“I was in fuel-save mode and still trying to get around those guys,” said Hamlin, who was running third behind his teammates after a restart on Lap 119. “When I got around them, I really went into conservation mode instead of stretching the lead out there.”
Hamlin passed Truex in traffic on Lap 142 to secure second place. Two laps later, he surged past Jones into the top spot.
“I got the opportunity on the outside of Turn 3,” Hamlin said. “Thank Pocono for the PJ1. Obviously, it could be hedged a little bit lower, but they at least gave us a second to race in today that we haven’t had before.”
Jones notched his runner-up finish after consecutive third-place runs at Kentucky and New Hampshire.
“Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn’t sure how we were going to run,” said Jones, who moved up one position in the series standings to 13th and increased his cushion over 17th-place Jimmie Johnson to 39 points with five races left in the regular season. “We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention.
“There at the end, I wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin gave me a great push at the end (on the overtime restart after a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent the race to extra laps). We were there for a second, then the top got rolling. I couldn’t really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We’ve just got to break through. Once we get that first (win), I think we can click a few off here.”
William Byron finished fourth after starting 31st because his qualifying time was disallowed for a post-qualifying inspection failure. Kyle Larson ran fifth after starting from the rear in a backup car, the result of a wreck in opening practice.
Kevin Harvick, Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10. Harvick led a race-high 62 laps, and Busch was out front for 56, but inopportune cautions spoiled their respective race strategies and left them fighting through traffic to get the results they did.
Busch won the race’s first stage, and Johnson picked up his second career stage win in the second before finishing 15th.
William Byron turns tough day into strong result at Pocono
You’d never know from William Byron’s demeanor or his language that the 21-year-old driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had just finished fourth in Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway.
“It was a struggle,” said Byron, who restarted sixth in overtime and passed both Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick to post his second top five of the season. “I felt like the guys did a good job with strategy, and being able to maximize on restarts. We got fortunate on a couple of things. We go on from it and move on to Watkins Glen.”
With five races left in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Byron remains 12th in the standings, but he increased his margin over Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson—the first driver currently out of a Playoff-eligible position—to 62 points.
Nevertheless, after the strong run at Pocono, Byron seemed more focused on the difficulty he faced at the Tricky Triangle, where he started 31st after his car failed post-qualifying inspection. After pitting for the last time on Lap 115, Byron saved just enough fuel to make it to the end of the race, which went three laps beyond its posted distance.
“It was a tough day,” Byron said. “We didn’t really have a lot going our way. In the first stage, and even the second stage, we were just kind of hanging on.
“We just found a way to kind of make it work. We had good strategy and just found a way to kind of settle in there in a decent spot and save the right amount of fuel. We ran out of fuel coming across the (finish) line, so that was great. We saved the right amount of fuel, and that was about it.”
Kyle Larson drives his backup car to fifth-place finish
For the second straight week, Kyle Larson started a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race from the rear of the field in a backup car, but his run in Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway was considerably more satisfying than the day he had last weekend at New Hampshire.
Larson crashed 10 minutes into opening practice on Saturday morning and had very few laps on his backup No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet before qualifying. He was 29th fastest in time trials but, under NASCAR rules, had to drop to the back of the field for the start.
At times during Sunday’s race, Larson had the fastest car on the track. By the end of the first stage, he was sixth and he remained in contention throughout the balance of the race, though his running position varied according to divergent strategies and pit stop cycles.
When the race went to overtime, Larson lined up fourth and pushed race winner Denny Hamlin out front on the final restart. Larson had a close call with the wall in overtime and lost a position when he slowed to avoid contact with the barrier.
“I didn’t hit the wall, but I got close,” said Larson, who finished fifth. “I knew I was going to be close to the wall, so I bailed out of the throttle to keep myself from hitting the wall and lost momentum. I felt bad, but it was better than ending up torn up like the last time I was aggressive on a restart.
“It was a good day. It was a lot better car than I thought I was going to have, so it just goes to show how good our team is right now and how good our cars are. Last week, I felt like we had one of the fastest cars and we didn’t get to show it (because of two wrecks during the race). Today, I felt like we were one of the fastest cars. If I could just race a primary car, who knows what we could do? I just have to clean up a little bit of what I’m doing in practice and the races, and hopefully we can get a win.”
Chase Briscoe runs down Christopher Bell for Iowa victory
NEWTON, Iowa — Chase Briscoe’s been chasing wins all season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
They proved bitterly elusive — until Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.
The driver of the No. 98 Ford Performance Ford shrugged off frustration and instead churned up smoke with a jubilant, long-awaited series of burnouts that preceded his first trip to Victory Lane this season.
Briscoe’s sweeping slide job past longtime race leader Christopher Bell — who paced the field for a dominant 235 laps — ensured that the physical, caution-marred race would end in a raucous celebration, not head-shaking and second-guessing.
And maybe a run toward the top of the standings, which has been dominated by points leader Tyler Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer — the so-called “Big Three.”
“It’s nice, for sure, to kind of silence everybody,” said Briscoe, who ended Bell’s two-race win streak at Iowa while notching his first win on the racy 7/8-mile track. “We definitely are still not near where we need to be, but I feel like we’ve been way closer, these last couple weeks especially. So we’ve still got to get better if we’re gonna beat the “Big Three,” but I feel like we’re slowly getting into that conversation of being that fourth guy.”
For most of Saturday’s race, Bell appeared headed for another breezy victory at Iowa, but worn-out tires doomed him down the stretch as Briscoe’s grip and gumption took over.
“He did a good job and did everything he needed to win the race,” a dejected Bell told MRN Radio.
Bell cruised to wins in the first two 60-lap stages and now has led more laps at Iowa than any other series driver (668) despite only having five starts at the track.
“I felt like we were a second-place car all day,” said Briscoe, who stayed out when Bell pitted with 100 laps to go, allowing him to pit later and run on fresher tires down the stretch. “The 20 was the class of the field.”
Briscoe — who started alongside Bell on the front row —overcame an early pit road penalty to earn his first win at Iowa and snare his third straight top-six effort after a 35th-place finish at Daytona.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Briscoe, who notched his second career series win and remains seventh in the point standings. “We were definitely racing real hard. That was beating and banging — and that’s about as good as it gets.”
John Hunter Nemechek finished third and led six laps while battling in the top five most of the day.
“To finish third and say you’re disappointed is pretty good I guess,” Nemechek said. “We needed this run after the last few weeks we’ve had.”
Briscoe’s banner day contrasted sharply with one of the Big Three’s series of misfortunes.
Custer ran in the top five most of the day until a penalty for speeding on pit road dropped him to the rear of the field.
He then hit the wall on lap 160, prompting a trip to the garage that ended his day. He finished 29th and remains third in points, behind Bell and Reddick, who finished fifth Saturday.
“I was mad at myself for getting a speeding penalty and putting us back there,” Custer told MRN after being evaluated at the infield care center. “Frustrating.”
Saturday proved anything but for Briscoe, who had battled Bell at Iowa many times — but mainly online, not on the track.
“We’ve been racing online against each other for probably 10 years,” Briscoe said. “We used to run Iowa all the time in the Xfinity car and have battles like that, so it was fun to do it for real this time.”
Robert Gray – NASCAR Wire Service
Race engineer Cliff Daniels takes over as
Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Cliff Daniels, the race engineer who helped Jimmie Johnson win the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, has been named as the new crew chief for Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team, the organization announced Monday.
Daniels, 31, replaces Kevin Meendering, effective immediately, and will guide the No. 48 team this weekend at Watkins Glen International. Daniels had been working in Hendrick’s competition systems group before rejoining the No. 48 team as race engineer for the June event at Sonoma Raceway.
Meendering, who took over as Johnson’s crew chief this year after long-time pit boss Chad Knaus moved to William Byron’s car, will remain with Hendrick Motorsports in a senior competition role.
“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “He’s a natural leader and tremendously talented from both a technical and communication standpoint. Cliff’s familiarity with Jimmie and the No. 48 team culture will benefit us a ton. He will bring the spark that’s been our missing ingredient.”
A seven-time champion at NASCAR’s highest level, Johnson hasn’t won a race since June 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is currently 17th in the series standings, 12 points outside the cut line for the Playoffs with five events left in the regular season.
Two of Johnson’s teammates, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, already have qualified for the postseason with victories this year. Byron is 12th in the standings, 62 points ahead of the seven-time champion.
Daniels earned his engineering degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and served for two years as race engineer for Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing (2013-2014) before moving to Hendrick Motorsports. A former driver himself, Daniels raced late models at short tracks in Virginia before embarking on his career as an engineer.
“Cliff has really shined since he came back to the ‘48’,” Johnson said. “When he returned, there was an immediate change in the team dynamic that all of us felt. We’ve worked together for a long time, have a ton of mutual respect and a shared vision. I have no doubt the strong connection and working relationship is going to pay dividends right away.
“I’m so grateful to Kevin. He’s a truly awesome person who I think very, very highly of. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him in his new role. He’s a brilliant guy and will make all of us better.”
Daniels bring an air of confidence to his new role.
“We have an opportunity to win an eighth championship and a lot more races with Jimmie,” Daniels said. “I’m proud to be in this position and have total faith in the team and our ability to perform at the level everyone expects.
“We have the best driver, the best organization and the best leadership, so everything we need to be successful is in place. It’s always been my goal to become a crew chief, and I’m thankful to Mr. Hendrick for his confidence.”