Denny Hamlin earned his fifth win at Pocono on Sunday in his 28th career race at the track.
If you like a race that often comes down to strategy and who can plan out the 160 laps the best (or in this case 163 laps), then Pocono is the track for you.
Or if you like the uncertainty and nail biting that comes with whether the leaders can stretch their fuel around the 2.5 miles, Pocono is for you.
Or if you’re a big fan of triangles, you’ll probably like Pocono, as well.
Variety is good for NASCAR, and Pocono is a track that really stands out — both for its unique layout and for how the races play out. We don’t see anything else like it on the Cup schedule.
And next year, we’ll get a new twist on the individuality of the race, when the two Pocono races will be held on back-to-back days. A little preview of the stats I’ll be slinging comes next June 27-28 — it’ll be the first time in NASCAR’s modern era that we’ve had Cup races on back-to-back days. The last time it happened was Aug. 27-28, 1971, when Richard Petty won at Columbia on a Friday, and Tiny Lund won at Hickory the next day.
But now, let’s focus on last week’s race.
Hamlin tames the triangle
Hamlin’s win came in his 28th career race at the track, but it was his first win in the last 19 races at the track after he won four of his first nine career starts at the track, including his first two in 2006.
Getting win number five in start 28 puts Hamlin at an impressive pace. Gordon’s fifth Pocono win came in his 37th start. Elliott got there in his 42nd start.
Hamlin can tie Gordon with a sixth win — and he’s got 11 starts to beat Gordon’s pace, as Gordon’s sixth win came in his 40th Pocono start.
Thrice as nice for JGR
Joe Gibbs Racing not only got the win from Hamlin, it pulled off a 1-2-3 finish with Erik Jones running second and Martin Truex Jr. finishing third. If you had a Gibbs trifecta without Kyle Busch (who finished ninth) in it, then you should consider betting these races.
This is the second 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing, the other one coming earlier this season in the Daytona 500, again with Hamlin winning, then Busch second and Jones third.
That makes Gibbs just the fifth team in NASCAR Cup series history with multiple 1-2-3 finishes in a single season, joining Roush Fenway in 2005, Depaolo Engineering in 1957, Hugh Babb’s Chevy factory team in 1957 and Carl Kiekhaefer’s team in 1956.
Amazingly, each of the four Roush Fenway Racing 1-2-3 finishes had a different winner — Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch. So did the three by DePaolo in 1957 and the two by Babb in 1957.
Piling up top 10s
Busch didn’t join in the fun of a 1-2-3 finish, but he did pick up yet another top-10 finish, his 18th in 21 races this season. You know you’re having a good season when a ninth-place run hurts your average finish.
If Busch can keep up this pace, it’ll give him 30 top-10 finishes on the season, a mark that’s been hit just once in the modern era (since 1972).
In 2007, Gordon had 30 top-10 finishes (with six wins in 21 top-fives), for a 7.3 average finish. However, with the playoff format, Gordon didn’t win the championship that season; his teammate Jimmie Johnson got his second title that year.
If Busch could up his pace just a bit, he could be the first driver with more than 30 top-10 finishes in a season since 1971, when Petty (41), James Hylton (37) and Bobby Allison (31) all did it. Of course, there were 48 races that season, while Busch only has 36 shots at top 10s.