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Pocono Sunday Tripleheader: Hamlin turns the tables on Harvick; Xfinity to Briscoe; Trucks to Jones

Pocono Sunday Tripleheader: Hamlin turns the tables on Harvick; Xfinity to Briscoe; Trucks to Jones

NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway: Turn about for Hamlin

Long Pond, PA, June 28/20 (GRW): On Saturday, Kevin Harvick’s strategy saw him beating Denny Hamlin to the line. On Sunday, it was Hamlin’s turn; his final two-tire pit stop gave him the edge over harvick and he was able to maintain that lead to the checker – crossing the line three seconds ahead Harvick. This strategy was a big gamble for, had there been another caution in that final run, Hamlin’s lead would have evaporated and it would have been a shootout between the two. I don’t know who would have won in that case. As it happened, this was Hamlin’s fourth win of the season, making his prospects of winning his first NASCAR Cup championship look promising.

Sunday was a historic day for NASCAR racing. It was the first time that three major NASCAR races had been run at the same place on the same day. The Truck Series ran before noon and then the Xfinity race after lunch. The Cup race was supposed to start just before five o’clock but it started a few minutes late. Just four laps after the green, a light rain began and the race was red-flagged as lightning was sighted in the area. This red flag lasted over 50 minutes so the race really never got under way until after 6:00 pm.

Both the two preliminary races had been plagued with cautions and red flags and, as the
Cup race began, it looked like this trend was going to continue. This time the first crash came on lap 15 of the 140-lap race and, not counting Stage end yellows, there were six cautions during the race. However, in the final 55-lap Stage there were no cautions at all – setting the stage for various pit strategies to play out.

The random draw for starting positions saw Kurt Busch starting on the second row and he jumped into the lead on the first lap and he led all the way to the end of the first 30-lap Stage. After that Ryan Blaney led through two mid-Stage yellows but he handed it over to Hamlin after a round of green-flag pit stops during this 55-lap Stage – too long to go without stopping for fuel.

Now that different drivers were on different pit stop timings, there was another bunch of green-flag pit stops as the end of the second 55-lap Stage approached, cycling Brad Keselowski into position to win the second Stage.

In the final Stage the important race strategy played out as the sun began to set. Twenty laps into this final Stage Harvick made his final pit stop, handing the lead over to Hamlin. Fifteen laps later, Hamlin made his pit stop and took on only two tires. This looked a bit like the tactic Harvick had used to win his race the previous day. Martin Truex had taken the lead when these two – and others – pitted under green but eventually he also had to stop and the lead cycled back to Hamlin, who was maintaining his two-second lead over Harvick. Could he hold off Harvick with just two fresh tires? Or would he have to stop for more tires before the end.

Meanwhile, the sun had dropped below the horizon and the cars raced on in the early twilight. Keselowski, who had been running in third just behind the front two – and who was actually closing on Harvick, cried ‘uncle’ and pitted for a splash of gas. Somehow Hamlin, on two fresh tires to Harvick’s four, was able to maintain his lead over Harvick and he took the checker three seconds ahead as the darkness came in. (If you were watching this on television, remember that the television cameras can make it look brighter that it actually is.)

"I was hoping for no caution," Hamlin said of the final 51-lap green-flag run and the winning strategy. "I knew we had the car, and I was just kind of maintaining my gap right there—didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and gave that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic the best I could, and obviously, Chris (Gabehart, his crew chief) was paying attention to the strategy there and made the right call."

Despite his second-place finish, Harvick felt he had a better setup in his car than the one he drove to victory on Saturday. "He (Hamlin) just did the opposite of what we did," Harvick said. "We didn’t want to get caught with a caution and then wound up losing a little bit too much time in lapped traffic with all the cars that hadn’t pitted. He was out there running clean laps and waited till right to the very end (to pit) and wound up in front of us. I’m proud of everybody on our team. Yesterday, (strategy) won us the race, and today we finished second."

Hamlin’s teammate Erik Jones finished third, Chase Elliott was fourth and Aric Almirola fifth. Despite running at the front at times in the early going, the Penske teammates Blaney and Keselowski finished back in 22nd and 11th place respectively. Joey Logano, the third Penske driver, had a disappointing day, finishing in 24th place.

• Click HERE for the results of Sunday’s Pocono 350.

• The next NASCAR Cup race will be run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Sunday, July 5th. It will run as part of a two-day tripleheader with an Xfinity race and a 195-mile IndyCar race, both on the IMS road course, on the Saturday.

PHOTO NXS Pocono FinishLine 062820Chase Briscoe crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 225 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 225 at Pocono Raceway: A fourth Xfinity win for Briscoe

Long Pond, PA, June 28/20 (GRW): As had been the case for the Truck Series race ran before lunchtime, this Xfinity race was filled with cautions – seven, not counting the Stage-end yellows, plus one red-flag. All this pushed the finish time of this preliminary race closer to the planned starting time of the Cup race which was to follow –but the race ended before the Cup race’s air time began.

Despite suffering a flat tire while in the lead and bringing out the eighth yellow on lap 70 of the 91-lap race, Briscoe recovered and he was up into fourth place by the time the track went green again. In the next few laps he caught Ross Chastain and he passed him to regain the lead on lap 83. There was yet to be one final caution but Briscoe and Chastain did not pit.

With their two trucks starting side-by-side for the final restart, Briscoe held off Chastain to lead the last couple laps to the checker.

As is the case for Denny Hamlin in the Cup Series, Briscoe now has four wins in this Xfinity Series and his prospects of winning the season-end championship are looking good.

Jeremy Clements finished third, Myatt Snider fourth and Michael Annett was fifth.

As had happened in the Truck Series race earlier that same day, the first caution came on the very first lap, the first of seven cautions – and a red flag – not counting the Stage-end yellows. Ironically, it ended the race for Brandon Jones, who had won the Truck Series race earlier that same day. After that mess was cleaned up, the race went green for two or three laps before the second caution flew. Austin Cindric, who had drawn ninth on the grid, took the lead on this restart and he held the lead thought the third caution (and red flag) tot he end of the first Stage.

With so many cautions happening in these short Xfinity and Truck Series races one has to wonder if perhaps the idea of having these races run without any practice despite the relative inexperience of the drivers in these lower series is perhaps a bad idea. Note that the ARCA Menards Series race – another junior NASCAR series, which ran here on Friday afternoon, did have a practice session.

The second 20-lap Stage ran without any more cautions and it was won by Justin Allgaier over Chastain. At this point, Briscoe was running back outside the top ten and not looking much like a threat to win. Cindric beat everyone out of the pits but he had to restart from the second row because Chastain and Justin Haley had not pitted and they had cycled up into the lead for this restart.

In this final 50-lap Stage, there were four more cautions. The ‘big one’ came on lap 54 and involved Noah Gragson, Cindric, Ryan Sieg, Daniel Hemric, Snider and Allgaier. This brought Briscoe up to the front for the restart and positioned him to win the race, despite he, himself, bringing out the next caution when he had a flat tire.

“We were really not that good at the beginning. We kind of struggled and didn’t have the speed I really anticipated to have here,” Briscoe said. “Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and the guys kept working on it, kept getting it better and better. We had the lead there, after I sped on pit road. I was a little worried, but, fortunately, a lot of the good cars got torn up and made it a little bit easier to get back through the field. Me and Ross, it was pretty fun. He’s one of the hardest guys to race against and pass … We’re halfway to eight (Briscoe’s goal of eight wins for the regular season), so hopefully we can keep going.”

• Click HERE for the results of this Xfinity Pocono Green 225.

• The next Xfinity race will be run next Saturday, July 4 as part of the IndyCar+NASCAR tripleheader at IMS.

PHOTO NGROTS ECKES Pocono KBM 062820Christian Eckes leads Brandon Jones (the eventual race winner) during the Truck Series Pocono Organics 150 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Pocono Organics 150 at Pocono Raceway: Brandon Jones emerges as the late-race winner

Long Pond, PA, June 28/20 (GRW): Brandon Jones held off a charging Sheldon Creed to win the rain-postponed Truck Series race run here on the Sunday morning. The two raced side-by-side after the final caution with two laps to go until Creed’s truck got loose in Turn 2 on the final lap and Jones was able to pull ahead and take the checker by a 0.9 second margin. Jones has been racing in the Truck Series off-and-on since 2013 but this was his first win here; in his fifth year of racing full-time in the Xfinity Series, he has scored twice, including a win at Phoenix in March of this year.

After Creed fell back in Turn 2 on that final lap. Austin Hill charged past him to finish in second place. Todd Gilliland was fourth and Ben Rhodes was fifth.

This race had originally been scheduled as the undercard for Saturday’s Cup race but rain at that time forced the race organizers to postpone it to Sunday; the Saturday Cup race was able to run to completion as scheduled.

After that first caution on the opening lap, it was soon followed by a second on the first lap after the restart. This time the Quebec driver Rapheal Lessard made a mistake in the third corner an collected Austin Wayne Self, knocking both of them out of the race.

A third caution followed on lap 13, after just three laps of green-flag running. It involved Ty Majeski and Grant Enfinger. This time they stopped the race while they cleaned up the mess and they put out the red flag for the second time in the first Stage. The track went green for just a single lap before the flag flew ending the first Stage – a Stage which had seen only six laps of green-flag running.

Sheldon Creed had held the lead throughout all the first-Stage off-and-on running and he was flagged as the first Stage winner. He continued to lead to the end of the second Stage, which came on lap 30 as part of the sixth caution which had come out when Jordan Anderson spun off by himself on lap 28.

During the round of pit stops at the end of the second Stage which was an extension of the previous caution, many of the trucks did not stop and Creed and Christian Eckes, who had been running one-two but who did stop, dropped to 13th and tenth respectively for the restart.

After just two laps of green-flag running, Tate Fogelman spun and collected Tanner Gray. Eckes took the lead over Jones on this restart and it looked like the rest of the race was going to be a battle between Jones and Eckes but Eckes had a tire failure while leading Jones and he crashed bringing out the eighth caution with ten laps to go.

This put Jones in to the lead and he held this lead through the ninth and final caution to take the race win.

 PHOTO NGROTS Pocono Trophy 06280Brandon Jones celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Truck Series Pocono Organics 150 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“That was a heck of a battle,” said Jones, a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor who has won twice there. “I know it was fun to watch on TV — it was really fun for me there.”

Despite driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, whose equipment is arguably the best in the Gander Truck Series, Jones said the expectations to win were not that great.

“It‘s not really that much pressure, honestly,” Jones said. “There‘s so much they provide for us. We were all on a call with him (owner Kyle Busch) last night after the Cup race. He gave us so much information that led to this win today.”

“It sucks, for sure,” said last year’s ARCA champion Eckes, who was 11 laps away from winning his first race in the Truck series. “Probably caused by me. We had a little contact on pit road. It might have created a rub — I don‘t know. They said everything was clear… We could never really get track position. We finally got there and blew a tire.”

• Click HERE for the results of Sunday’s Pocono Organics 150 truck race

• The next NGROTS race is scheduled for the Kentucky Speedway on Saturday, July 11.

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