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Pocono on Saturday: Harvick wins the Cup race; Trucks rained out

Pocono on Saturday: Harvick wins the Cup race; Trucks rained out

Note: The Truck Series race which was scheduled to run on Saturday prior to the Cup race was rained out and plans called for this race to be run on Sunday at 9:00 am making it a triple-header event on Sunday – Trucks, Xfinity and Cup.

NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics 325 at Pocono Raceway: Tire strategy hands Harvick the win

Long Pond, PA, June 27/20 (GRW): Kevin Harvick led on the final 17 laps of this 130-lap race but that was good enough to give him the win over Denny Hamlin who finished 0.8 seconds behind him despite a troibling vibration during the closing laps. Aric Almirola took third with rookie Christopher Bell and defending Cup Series champ Kyle Busch finishing out the top five.

This race was planned as a first-ever double-header Cup event with this race on Saturday and another on Sunday. After the preliminary truck race was postponed to Sunday, the Cup race was also trobled with light rain and the race started nearly an hour late.

The Stage lengths for this race were 25 laps, 52, laps and 53 laps making up the total 130-lap race distance. Given that these cars can go about 40+ laps on a tank of gas. It made pit stop strategy tricky for the crew chiefs – probably the best strategy to win the race was to try to make it on jsut two pits stops evenly spaced with no consideration of pitting during either Stage-end turnaround. On the other hand, teams that were looking to maximize their points standings going into the season-end playoffs were likely going to try to win Stages.

Aric Almirola started on the pole based on the draw for starting positions. He led the first 19 laps but Joey Logano took over the lead in time to win the first Stage ahead of Hamlin and Almirola. Notably, Hamlin had already pitted during the lap 12 competition caution and at the Stage end he was nowhere near the front but his strategy was according to plan.

The second Stage was 52 laps long and everyone was going to have to pit sometime during this Stage. About mid-way through this Stage these pit stops began but this cycle was interrupted by the fourth caution which came on lap 66. Both Hamlin and Harvick pitted during this caution but Almirola did not stop and he took over the lead again on lap 67. The fifth caution came on lap 73, only a few laps before the end of the second Stage, when Erik Jones tangled with Tyler Reddick. Given that the timing of this caution did not suit their strategy, the front-runners did not pit during this caution.

The end of the second Stage came four laps later and Almirola was the Stage winner while Harvick was back in seventh place and Hamlin was in ninth place. It was still not the time for those hopeful of the win to pit.

Now this final Stage was reaching half-way and it was time for the final pit stop for tires. Almirola and Harvick came in together on lap 94 but Harvick took on only two tires while Almirla went for four. This gave Harvick a four-second advantage over Almirola as they exited the pits. Hamlin pitted out of the lead a couple of laps late and he took on four tires.

Once this final cycle of pits stops was eventually completed on lap 114, Harvick had the lead by a two-second margin over Hamlin with Almirola another ten seconds back. Now the race for the win was down to Harvick and Hamlin. Over those final 15 laps, Hamlin was able to close up on Harvick but he could never quite catch him. In the end, he was crossed the line 0.8 seconds adrift. Almirola finished in a solid third place but he was almost fifteen seconds behind the race winner. He was left to take consolation in the fact that his race strategy had been to maximize points and that, despite his third place, he had earned the most points in the race, 53 to Harvick’s 44. Harvick left here leading the points race with 534 points to second-place Ryan Blaney’s 505.

PHOTO NCS Pocono Flag 062720Kevin Harvick celebrates after wining the Pocono Organics 325 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

“We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position, but we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps,” said Harvick. “It’s great to finally check Pocono off the list (or race he had yet to win).

“I knew when we came out of the pits, and they told me how big of a lead we had (over Almirola). I saw the 11 (Hamlin) come out of the pits, and he was in second. … He caught us a little in traffic, but I knew I could be pretty patient with the gap we had.”

Almirola’s comment was, “We opted to score a lot of points (in the Stages), and that probably hurt us on strategy a little bit, but I’m really proud of Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and these (crew) guys. “They’ve been bringing some awesome race cars. I felt like we were tit-for-tat there with the 4 (Harvick) when we were on older tires and in clean air… We’re trying to keep the momentum going — three top fives in a row.”

• Click HERE for the result’s of Saturday’s Cup Series Pocono Organics 325

• The next race is the Pocono 350 scheduled to run here the next day – on Sunday, June 28.

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