Sunday's motors: Denny Hamlin leads Joe Gibbs Racing sweep at Pocono
Long Pond, Pa. — Denny Hamlin had enough speed In his Toyota, enough confidence in his crew chief, and just enough fuel to reach the finish line. Hamlin got the win Sunday at Pocono Raceway — his fifth at the tri-oval track nestled in the mountains — but so much more could be on the horizon.
At 38, Hamlin is having one of the best seasons of his career for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has a Daytona 500 victory, and two other wins and just maybe, his best shot at a NASCAR Cup Series championship since he fell short in 2014.
“I feel as long as we keep putting the effort in what we’re doing, I have as good a shot as any,” Hamlin said.
The Cup championship has eluded Hamlin but not much else has over a fantastic career that took off as a rookie in 2006 when he swept two Pocono races. He won two straight races at Pocono over the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but often struggled in recent years to seriously compete for a win on the tri-oval track.
He needed a bit of everything to go right over the final laps Sunday to reverse his fortune and win for the first time since March in Texas. Hamlin had to clear JGR teammates Erik Jones (Byron) and Martin Truex Jr., then had to conserve fuel in the No. 11 for when he needed it on two late restarts, including the final one in overtime.
Hamlin is coming off his first full winless season of his career and split with crew chief Michael Wheeler, with JGR giving the reigns to Chris Gabehart. Hamlin said he has full faith in the first-year Cup crew chief and followed his directives on fuel. Gabehart made all the right calls atop the pit box.
“I just let him go, get the lead,” Gabehart said. “Then as soon as he got out front, I pulled the reins on him, started putting some in the bank.”
That was enough for Hamlin.
“Win or lose, he comes up with the plays, and I’m the one that needs to execute it,” Hamlin said. “When he said, ‘OK, I need two positions on this restart,’ I got to go get two positions. He’s really done a good job of knowing what it takes to win in the Cup Series in his rookie season. I mean, he’s going to be around for a very long time.”
Hamlin’s three wins are the most since he won five in 2012 and his 10 top-10 finishes match his total from last season. His 34th career win in Cup helped lead a 1-2-3 charge for JGR: Jones, who needed a win to secure a spot in the playoffs, was second and Truex third. Hamlin also erased some of the sting from his near-miss last week at New Hampshire when Kevin Harvick caught him late for the win.
With the leaders running low on fuel, Hamlin had enough left to get a good jump off two late restarts that made the difference. Hamlin seemingly had the race won in regulation when he took the lead off a restart with four laps to go after Kurt Busch slammed into the wall to bring out another caution. Hamlin, Jones and Truex made it a 1-2-3 running order for JGR as the race headed into OT. That’s the way it shook out after three extra laps, and on Sunday, Hamlin had the right combination to score his third straight top-five finish.
“We’re running our best right now,” Hamlin said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
William Bryon was fourth, and Kyle Larson finished fifth.
In Lexington, Ohio, Scott Dixon held off rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist by 0.0934 seconds in the Honda Indy 200 to put himself back in contention to defend his IndyCar season championship.
It was the closest finish at Mid-Ohio and the third-closest on a road course in IndyCar history. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver from New Zealand is third on the career victory list with 46
The final lap on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course featured an epic battle with Rosenqvist — and a failed maneuver by points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. Newgarden tried to get around third-place Ryan Hunter-Reay in the keyhole part of the course, but ended up bumping Hunter-Reay and spinning off the track. Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport was third, 1.16 seconds behind Dixon.
Newgarden blew a chance to add to his points lead over Alexander Rossi. Rossi struggled to fifth, but still reduced Newgarden’s advantage to 16 points.
Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, who was sixth, is 57 points off the lead. Dixon is 62 back. There are four races left.
The wetter and wilder the German Grand Prix became, the more it suited Max Verstappen’s nerveless driving.
Verstappen, 21, mastered the treacherous conditions on a rain-soaked track to seal a second win in three races, and seventh of a career which appears destined to take the ice-cool Dutchman to the top of Formula One before too long.
Verstappen raised his fist triumphantly as he took the checkered flag at the Hockenheimring, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
The victory moved Verstappen to within 22 points of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas overall, but Lewis Hamilton is 61 points ahead of Verstappen after 11 of 21 races. A rare blip from Mercedes, with Bottas and Hamilton not scoring a point, happens as rarely as the 106-degree heat which turned Hockenheim into a furnace on Friday.
Hamilton finished 11th after starting from pole position, while Bottas crashed near the end failing to overtake Lance Stroll.
At Sonoma, Calif., Robert Hight raced to his 50th Funny Car victory at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
The points leader won for the fifth time this season and second straight year at Sonoma, beating Matt Hagan in the final with a 3.973-second run at 325.45 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro. Hight is the third Funny Car driver to reach 50 victories.
Billy Torrence won in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Torrence raced to his second victory of the season and third overall, beating Clay Millican with a 3.804 at 320.20.
Anderson won for the second straight race and the 93rd time in his career. He topped Alex Laughlin with a 6.602 at 208.71 in a Camaro.
Points leader Hines made it a double-win weekend with his seventh victory of the year and 55th overall, edging Matt Smith with a 6.790 at 198.00 on a Harley-Davidson.