A somewhat messy conclusion to Sunday’s HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway has resulted in Denny Hamlin and Toyota Racing Development celebrating significant NASCAR milestones after the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry made an aggressive late-race move to capture the victory.
Hamlin, who had utilized strategy to gain track position in the race’s closing laps, took matters into his own hands when it came to scoring the victory, running Kyle Larson up the track and putting the No. 5 into the outside wall with seven laps remaining.
After making the move and inheriting the lead of the race, Hamlin would then have to maintain the lead through multiple late-race restarts, which the veteran driver did with ease, capturing his 50th NASCAR Cup Series victory at the 2.5-mile facility.
That move, eerily similar to the move he made last season on Ross Chastain, didn’t draw a positive reaction from the crowd either, as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver parked on the frontstretch to a chorus of boos.
“I love it,” Hamlin said of the boos. “They can boo my rock out here in a few years.”
“Both guys wrecked themselves,” Hamlin stated, which further alienated the crowd. “There was a lane. [Larson] missed the corner, first. And evidently, he didn’t have his right side tires cleaned and when he gassed up, he just kept going again. You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence, or lift and race it out. Those are choices they made. Didn’t hit either one of them, didn’t touch them.”
The victory, while historically important for Hamlin, also marked the 600th victory in NASCAR’s top-three series for Toyota Racing Development, which saw five of the manufacturer’s six entries finish inside the top six.
Tyler Reddick scored a runner-up result for 23XI Racing, the organization in which Hamlin co-owns, despite being on an alternate strategy, which saw the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD fall outside the top-15 under green-flag conditions.
New Hampshire winner Martin Truex, Jr. came home in third place, after looking like he would be the driver to beat in the final stage of Sunday’s 160-lap event. Kevin Harvick finished inside the top five, in fourth, after being off-strategy for most of the race.
Ty Gibbs, the far-and-away leader in Rookie of The Year standings, recorded his first top-five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series, coming home in fifth place, despite contact with the wall on the first lap of the event.
Christopher Bell finished in sixth place, overcoming a spin earlier in the event, while a number of drivers on a similar strategy to Tyler Reddick finished in the top-10, in the form of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Harrison Burton, and Erik Jones, who finished seventh, eighth, and ninth.
Chase Elliott, who continues his quest to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2023, finished in 10th, after making a final pit stop with 16 laps to go in the event, driving through the pack.
William Byron, a teammate to Elliott, showed the most speed out of anyone throughout the majority of the afternoon at Pocono, leading a race-high 60 of 160 laps, but was unable to recover from the loss of track position, finishing 14th after getting off-strategy.
The event would finish under the caution flag, when Ryan Preece, driving the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing would spin at the exit of turn two, as the field approached the white flag, but was unable to get it fired, forcing the sanctioning body to call a caution.
Leaving Pocono, Martin Truex, Jr. extends his lead in the regular-season point standings over William Byron, to a gap that now consists of 30 points, with five races remaining in the regular season.
Up next for the NASCAR Cup Series is the series’ second trip to Richmond Raceway, where Kyle Larson would look to defend his crown against a hungry field of drivers looking to claim spots in the Playoffs.