NAS Denny Hamlin shares Cup Series lead after Pocono win

Denny Hamlin battled past nemesis Ross Chastain in a late-race restart that led to the latter’s wreck to win the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

In his No. 11 Toyota, Hamlin pulled away from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch over the final 13 laps to win for the third time in 2022, tying him with Chase Elliott for the Cup Series lead.

But it was the next-to-last restart with 18 laps left that had everyone on edge.

Paired on the front row with Chastain, who has had multiple run-ins with the 11 car that created tension between the drivers, Hamlin held a tight, high line off Turn 1.

Chastain then lost control of his No. 1 Chevrolet, hit the wall and slid down into Kevin Harvick’s Ford, forcing Chastain out of the race.

While there were mostly cheers for Hamlin, some boos were mixed in from the Pocono crowd.

“I mean, what did you want me to do? What did you expect me to do?” asked an incredulous Hamlin, who received a hug from daughter Taylor and then drove her around the track on a victory lap with her holding the checkered flag on the passenger side.

“We got position on him, and he just ran out of racetrack,” he said. “We’re just going to keep racing hard until we get the respect back from these guys. We’ve been wrecked four times, twice while leading, in the last 10 months. And I’m at the end of it.”

“(That wreck) is something that’s been owed to me for a few months now,” said Chastain, who ended up 34th. “I’ve been owed that and probably some more for a few months now.”

When asked if the score was settled, Chastain struggled to find an answer, smiled and replied, “I don’t know.”

Hamlin’s victory was his seventh at the odd-shaped, triangular track, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon and putting the Chesterfield, Va., native into the all-time lead.

His 49th career win also tied him with Tony Stewart among Cup victories.

Busch finished second, followed by Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez.

Kurt Busch, a three-time Pocono winner, missed the race because of a concussion suffered Saturday in a qualifying crash. Xfinity Series points leader Ty Gibbs made his Cup debut and finished 18th in the No. 45 Toyota.

Running 18th in the 30-lap first stage, Ford driver Austin Cindric spun off Turn 2 and struck the pit road wall for the first caution of the race that featured 160 circuits around the 2.5-mile speedway.

After Aric Almirola’s single-car incident created the second caution, Kyle Larson won the stage’s playoff points over Elliott.

Hamlin, the race’s polesitter, brought out the fourth caution when his No. 11 turned around on the tunnel turn’s apron, but the Toyota was not damaged.

Busch was strong throughout the 65-lap second stage and eventually earned the playoff points for winning the segment.

Chastain took the lead on Lap 124 due to a pit stop that was nearly three seconds faster than Busch’s.

However, Ryan Blaney caused the eighth caution period with 23 laps to go when he lost the back end of his No. 12 Ford and went head-on into the frontstretch’s inside wall, setting up the eventual encounter between Hamlin and Chastain.

–Field Level Media

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