Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

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With 10 races left in the Cup regular season, the push for stage points is starting to play a key role in strategy and the results are showing in the standings.

Austin Dillon holds what would be the 16th and final playoff heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1). But as Matt Kenseth nearly showed last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a victory by a driver outside the top 16 will take a playoff spot away from one hoping to make it by points.

Teams also are mindful that the regular season finale will be at Daytona International Speedway, which could lead to a surprise winner. Three of the last five Cup points races at Daytona saw a driver score either their first or second career Cup win: Dillon, Erik Jones and Justin Haley.

Teams already are trying different strategies to get away from 16th in the standings or climb into a potential playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto entered the Pocono doubleheader weekend 15th in the standings. Focusing on stage results, he scored 17 stage points in the two races that weekend and added 11 stage points last weekend at Indy.

Stage points can just make such a huge difference, especially this point in the year when the point stuff is really starting to settle out a little bit,” DiBenedetto said after the Pocono weekend. “People are settling in place, so you’ve got to take everything you can get because that makes a big difference as far as securing a solid spot in the playoffs.”

Those 28 stage points he’s earned the past three races helped DiBenedetto climb to 12th in the standings heading to Kentucky. He’s scored 26 more stage points than Clint Bowyer the past three races. That 26-point advantage helped put DiBenedetto three points ahead of Bowyer in standings.

William Byron‘s stage win at Indy proved key in helping him climb the points standings. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

William Byron won the first stage last weekend at Indy and collected 10 stage points (and one playoff point) after crew chief Chad Knaus had Byron stay on track under caution when most of the leaders did pit with eight laps left in the stage. Byron restarted in the lead and held that position for the final four laps of the stage under green.

Those 10 points helped Byron pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for 14th in the standings. Byron leads Johnson, who sat out Indy because he had tested positive for COVID-19, by two points. Johnson has since had two negative tests for the coronavirus and been reinstated for this weekend.

Another driver who has benefitted from a strategy focused on stage points is Dillon. He’s scored 18 stage points the past three races to nine stage points by Jones. Dillon holds what would be the final playoff spot by six points on Jones.

2. Will this be Kyle Busch’s weekend?

The reigning series champion has one win in the last 38 races but heads to a Kentucky Speedway that has been good to him, even though Kurt Busch nipped his younger brother for the win in last year’s race.

Kyle Busch has two wins in nine starts at Kentucky and leads all drivers in top-five finishes (seven), top-10 finishes (eight) and laps led (621) at the track.

Busch’s lone victory in the last 38 races came in last year’s championship race in Miami. In that same span, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined to win 14 races.

Also during that 38-race stretch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 16 races (42.1%). Each has eight wins in that time.

3. Speeding on pit road

Here’s a look at the number of pit road speeding penalties drivers have had in the first 16 races of the Cup season:

6 – Quin Houff

5 – Ryan Newman, Bubba Wallace

4 – Corey LaJoie, Garrett Smithley, Daniel Suarez

3 – Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JJ Yeley,

2 – Christopher Bell, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Brennan Poole, Ryan Preece.

1 – Chris Buescher, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Gase, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Reddick,

0 – Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr.

4. Streakin’

With Jimmie Johnson missing last weekend’s race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19, his consecutive starts streak ended at 663, ranking fifth on the all-time list. Johnson has since been cleared to race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Kevin Harvick ranks sixth on the list of longest consecutive starts streak with 656 consecutive starts heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Here is the top 6 in longest consecutive streaks:

797 — Jeff Gordon

788 — Ricky Rudd

704 — Bobby Labonte

697 — Rusty Wallace

663 — Jimmie Johnson

656 — Kevin Harvick

5. More of the same for Chevy teams?

Chevrolet teams are winless in their last eight Cup races and the manufacturer has one win in nine races at Kentucky. That victory came last year with Kurt Busch beating Kyle Busch at the finish.

Since Chase Elliott won the second Charlotte race in late May, Chevy drivers have not won. Elliott finished second in Miami, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second at Talladega and Matt Kenseth was second at Indianapolis.

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What drivers said after Brickyard 400

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Kevin Harvick – winner: “We knew (Denny Hamlin) was gonna be really close on tires and (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) told me on the radio he said, ‘Just make sure you keep the pressure on him,’ and that was all the pressure I could give.  Those guys do a really good job.”

(HOW TOUGH WAS THE BATTLE TO STAY OUT FRONT?  YOU MADE ONE DARING MOVE WHERE YOU WENT TO THE GRASS TO TRY TO GET THE LEAD.) “I didn’t have anymore room. That was for sure, but it’s the Brickyard. This is what i grew up wanting to do as a kid, win at the Brickyard and to be able to come here and have won for the third time is something that I could have never dreamed of.  I want to say hi to my family at home. I know (his son) Keelan will be jacked up. (Daughter) Piper is probably asleep. If not, hello. But just really, really proud of all these guys on this team.”

Matt Kenseth – finished second: “It was a great day for the 42 team today. It’s always nice to be up front and be in contention late in the race. (crew chief) Chad (Johnston )did a great job on the box with his calls today. We had a really good strategy and the best tires coming to the end of the race, lining up fourth behind the leader late in the race, but just couldn’t get it done to take the lead. I tried everything to get to the front, but just didn’t have quite enough to get around the (Harvick). If we had gotten to the lead though, I know we would have been hard to beat. All in all, though, a great race for us. It felt good to run up front and was a confidence booster for all of us. Looking forward to getting to Kentucky and carrying that momentum forward.”

Aric Almirola – finished third: “We had such a great Smithfield Ford Mustang, but we kept having to get off-sequence on our pit strategy because we kept having tires come apart. They’d start to come apart and they would vibrate and shake so bad that I could hardly see where I was going, so we kept having to pit for that and it kept messing us up on our strategy and getting us off-sequence, but fortunately there at the end the caution came out when we needed it to and things finally went our way and we knocked out another top five, so just really proud of all the guys on this team. We’re doing such a good job of being consistent. We’re bringing great race cars and we’re being really consistent running up front, so just really proud of this team and just want to keep it going. It’s fun to run up front like that.”

Brad Keselowski – finished fourth: “I think we were kind of up and down. We started ninth or 10th and just kind of hung around sixth or seventh and couldn’t quite make the pass. Our car was really, really fast in clean air, but I couldn’t run in traffic. We’d run up to cars and get stopped and would kind of ride. Then we started to see the tire issues and tried to be really smart about that and try not to beat ourselves, keep tires on the car. Of course, every time we pitted to put tires on the car we’d cycle to the back, but we were just really mindful to not beat ourselves and that paid off. It gave us a good finish. If I’d have had clean air all day and not had to worry about the tires, we were as good as anybody, but worrying about the tires and not being spectacular in dirty air we kind of had to play it straight with the way it was and ended up with a top five and a fourth-place finish. We’ll take that and move forward.”

Cole Custer – finished fifth: “It is awesome to have all of SHR running well here at Indy. It is Tony’s (Stewart) backyard so it is a huge race for us. For us, our team, this package has been exactly the opposite of what I am used to driving. For it to all come together today means a lot. Thanks to all the guys at SHR for bringing great race cars. HaasTooling.com went national this week, so check them out. I am psyched. I am really happy we finally had it all come together.”

(Why did it come together at Indianapolis?) “I think it is just that I am getting better with the cars and knowing what to expect when we go to the track and getting better at what to bring in the cars to the track. It is a work in progress and having no practice doesn’t help that. I think it is all starting to come to us.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: “We just kept getting off on pit strategy with the Skittles America Mix Camry. We had a valve stem come off the left rear (tire) on a stop and that put us in the back. Then we had vibrations at various points throughout the race with different sets of tires so we had to stay on top of that and make sure we changed those. Each time, that would put us on the back. I struggled to pass anybody most of the day, but somehow got spots on restarts. I was able to salvage a sixth-place finish and will head to Kentucky next week.”

Michael McDowell – finished seventh: “Another great finish for us. Another solid top 10.  t’s such a big run for us. I’m so proud of everybody at Front Row (Motorsports) and (owner) Bob Jenkins for giving me this opportunity. It’s taken so long to be this competitive and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity.  To have CarParts.com and Power Stop and Love’s Travel Stops and FR8 Auctions and all our partners throughout the year, Speedco — so many great people that make this possible and we’re doing it  We’re doing it every week. We’re definitely way more competitive than we’ve ever been and it’s a lot of fun.”

Tyler Reddick – finished eighth: “We had a great No. 8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet when we could run in clean air and record some good lap times, but unfortunately we struggled in dirty air, like a lot of our competitors today. Any time we were battling someone side by side or from behind them, our car would just build way too tight and make it tough to gain or hold track position. We just had an up-and-down day, falling back early and then playing some strategy to stay out to start Stage 3 from the fifth spot.

“Once the race restarted for Stage 3, we were able to hold on to that position for a while before having to make our final green flag stop of the day. Unfortunately, a yellow came our when our pit stops were cycling through, trapping us a lap down and forcing us to take the wave-around and get shuffled back in traffic again. When that final yellow flag came out and set us up for a green-white-checkered finish, my crew chief Randall Burnett made the call to come in for four fresh tires and put us 16th for the restart. I was able to capitalize on the final restart with fresher tires and race up to eighth place, which is a great finish for our day. We had to grind it out today, but it turned out in our favor.”

Bubba Wallace – finished ninth: “I guess it is good to be frustrated when you finish in the ninth place. All-in-all, it was a good day for this No. 43 World Wide Technology (WWT) Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. It was fast. We just did not have the handling underneath us. It was good down the straightaways. It did not want to turn very well – specially behind traffic. One of the more frustrating days being behind cars and just trying to maneuver. So, coming out of there with a top-10 finish is good momentum going to the Kentucky Speedway – another good track for us. We will continue the good vibes and keep staying on Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) to produce good finishes for us.”

Kurt Busch – finished 13th: “This was an Indy race to forget today. We had to make too many unscheduled returns to pit road, which cost us a lot of track position. We just had an unbelievably tight handling Monster Energy Camaro in traffic, I just could cut through the corners to make any passes. Obviously I was hoping for better results for (start) No. 700 today.”

Ty Dillon – finished 14th: “A nice 14th-place finish at Indy for our GEICO Military team. It was a crazy one, but overall, it was a really solid day. From start to finish, we had speed and these are the types of cars that I knew we could bring to the track that would make a difference. I’m very proud of (crew chief) Matt (Borland) and all of my Germain Racing guys for their hard work. To finish the first two stages in 11th and 12th and then finish the race in 14th is a great day for our program. This is our fourth top-15 finish of the season and we are going to keep stacking those up. We’ll go get them in Kentucky and keep this momentum rolling.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 15th: “It was a hard-fought day for our No. 38 Fire Alarm Services, Inc. Ford Mustang. We were tight in traffic to start and it was difficult to keep the car turning when I was behind another car. (cew chief) Seth (Barbour) and the crew made some good adjustments throughout the day that helped our handling a lot. We got caught up there at the end, but still had a decent top-15 day.”

Austin Dillon – finished 18th: “We had a really strong Dow Salutes Veterans Chevrolet today at the Brickyard and it was fun to be able to earn stage points in Stages 1 and 2 and lead laps. Our Chevy was handling really well all day so we really only needed to make small adjustments throughout the race. Justin Alexander made great calls to help us get track position. Clean air is huge. We made the decision to stay out when the caution flag was displayed at the end of Stage 3. That put us in a great position for a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag. We were racing for sixth but tangled in Turn 4 coming to the checkers and ended up backing into the wall. Definitely not the finish we wanted or deserved today, but I’m proud of our effort. We had a lot of positives with earning stage points and leading laps.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 20th: “I thought the balance of our Certified Used Vehicles Toyota was good today and we did a good job of keeping up with the track. One thing we know we have to do is keep working to find more speed. The team did a good job dealing with a couple of issues we had, one with the power steering that took a couple of extra stops to fix. We worked hard and got a top 20 out of it, but we also know we are better than that and we know the areas we need to keep working on. We’ll just keep working hard on getting better and if we keep working hard, we will. We all want this.”

William Byron – finished 27th: “Our Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was super-fast today. It just sucks because we have had a lot of these things happen this year. It’s not a fault of anyone, it just happens and it’s a bummer for sure. We’ve had fast cars and it feels like we always have bad luck when we do. That’s what hurts even more. We just need to bring that same speed to Kentucky and hopefully we won’t have any issues there. To be leading the race like that and have a tire issue is, I guess, a good way to go out. We’ll just see what we can do in Kentucky.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 28th: “It’s just tough. I hate it for the FedEx team. We didn’t do what we needed to do and it didn’t work out for us today. I had a fast car obviously and was stretching it out there but wasn’t pushing right front at all. It’s kind of roulette if you’re going to get one that will stay together or not and mine didn’t. You saw the end result. These big races — things don’t go my way all the time. We’re still going to go next week and try to win the next one. We’ll do all we can.”

Alex Bowman – finished 30th: “I wish we could have some luck here in Indy. Every time we come here, something happens. We had a pretty decent car, but through a series of events it just got worse. We suffered a tire issue right before we made a green flag stop, which ended our day. I hate it for my guys and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports because they have been putting in a ton of hours both at track and at the shop. We will move on to Kentucky and I hope we bring some luck with us.”

Erik Jones – finished 33rd: “The Stanley Camry was pretty quick. We were kind of just trying to move to the front and get some track position and I guess we had a right front go down. I felt it pop, and I was kind of along for the ride. It was a pretty hard hit. It’s a shame. The Stanley Camry was fast. I think we just needed to get up front a little more and we could have contended. It’s a shame; it’s kind of the story of our season. We’ve just had a rough year, and things are just not going our way. Hopefully, we can just turn it around, keep bringing fast cars and have things turn around for us.”

Justin Allgaier – finished 37th: “The No. 15 (Brennan Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got (hit) the gentleman on the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney‘s crew member) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into. It’s just a shame. I hate it for these guys on this Ally No. 48. They’ve done such a great job. They’ve prepared so well for the circumstances. Obviously, our hearts and thoughts are for Jimmie (Johnson) and his family right now. That’s the most important piece of all this is getting him back to the race track soon. And, I wanted to do well for them today and it’s disappointing to be standing here talking to you (TV interviewer) unfortunately. But we’ll go on. I don’t know what next week looks like yet. We’ll go run the Xfinity Series race and go have a good shot at it. It’s a disappointing way to end the Brickyard 400.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 38th: “Terrible. Disappointing. We really only ran one lap up to speed, then we ended up having that engine deal, so it’s just disappointing. Our Auto Owners Camry felt amazing. I thought that we were going to have a great day. We ran a lap and a half, I guess, and it was feeling really good and then engine went down. The deal on pit road, that kind of happened to us last year. I almost aborted. I almost said I’m going to wait and come around the next lap, but the guys really wanted to get under the hood and assess the engine, and come to find out it was just a spark plug problem, so we could have easily fixed it and had a really good day. Thanks to Auto Owners and Toyota and everyone that supports us. We will come back strong and hopefully get them next week.”

Power Rankings after Pocono: Denny Hamlin a unanimous No. 1

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Denny Hamlin not only won Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono, he also knocked Ryan Blaney off the top spot for this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Hamlin was a unanimous selection of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers for No. 1 in this week’s rankings.

Kevin Harvick, who finished 1st-2nd in the two Pocono races (while Hamlin finished 2nd-1ast), was the biggest gainer, going from unranked last week to a unanimous pick for No. 2 this week. The biggest drop was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who went from third last week to unranked this week.

Here’s how this week’s rankings look:

1. Denny Hamlin (30 points): Keeps getting stronger. First four-time winner of the season. Could this be the year he finally wins his first Cup championship? Last week: second.

2. Kevin Harvick (27 points): Came so close to making it a weekend sweep. Has 3 wins, eight top five and 12 top-10 finishes in first 15 races. Has finished outside the top 15 only once this season. Last week: unranked.

3. Aric Almirola (23 points): Four consecutive top fives – his only top fives this season and the best streak of his career – has Almirola back on track after earlier struggles. Last week: fourth (tied).

4. Chase Elliott (15 points): Has four top 10s in the last six races. Last week: seventh.

5. Brad Keselowski (14 points): Since NASCAR returned from the COVID-19 hiatus, Keselowski has two wins and just three finishes outside the top 10 in 11 races. Last week: eighth (tied).

6. Ryan Blaney (13 points): Had an off weekend (best finish was 12th on Saturday) after his win at Talladega. His Pocono finishes snapped a streak of six top-five finishes in his previous seven starts. Last week: first.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (12 points): Has four top 10s, including a win, in the last six races. Last week: unranked.

8. Chase Briscoe (9 points): Has been strong in the Xfinity Series this season, leading the way with four wins – including Sunday at Pocono. Last week: unranked.

9. Erik Jones (8 points): Sunday’s season-best third-place finish – his second top five in the last three races – was a big turnaround from wrecking out Saturday. Last week: 10th (tied).

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (6 points): Earned pair of top-10 finishes at Pocono, first back-to-back top 10s this season. Can he keep the momentum going at Indianapolis, where he’s had back-to-back fifth-place finishes the last two years? Last week: unranked.

(tie) 10. Alex Bowman (6 points): Earned third top 10 in last five races. Last week: 4th (tied).

Others receiving votes: Matt DiBenedetto (1 point), Brandon Jones (1 point).

What drivers said after Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I was just hoping for no cautions, I knew we had the car. I was just maintaining my gap right there and didn’t want to make any mistakes like I did at Bristol and threw that win away. I just tried to work through the traffic as best I could and obviously (crew chief Chris Gabehart) is paying attention to strategy there and made the right call. … A lot of adversity early. We got some nose damage and had to fix that. Then we just worked on the car and got it better and better. It finished the race there a lot better than we finished yesterday and I thought we had a race-winning car yesterday. We knew after yesterday’s race and showing the speed that we had, just don’t mess it up and we’ve got a good shot today and that’s what we did.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 2nd: “Car was actually better today than it was yesterday. Just the way that the end worked out.  We had to run in a lot of traffic there. Denny (Hamlin) kept clicking off laps. They did what they had to do, did the opposite of what we did as far as when we pitted.  We lost time going through that traffic, just came out behind him, wound up second today. …  I think overall you can’t be dissatisfied with a first and a second. I’d feel childish if I sat her and nitpicked that apart.”

Erik Jones — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, today was a lot better than yesterday for sure. It’s great to rebound like that. Unfortunately, I think we could have – definitely could have had two top-fives, and really, I think our primary car was quite a bit better than this car. I thought we could have probably contended both days a little more towards the win if we had our primary, but the Craftsman Camry was good. We made good changes overnight. We actually changed a lot of stuff and tried to kind of rebalance with what we had with this backup car. It’s nice to get a solid finish. I mean, we came off a good run at Talladega and went right back to a DNF and to come back here with a third. We just need to be consistent from here and keep it rolling.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 4th: “It was good to have a solid run for our NAPA team after yesterday being so poor. Obviously, we would’ve liked to of been a little better, but after starting in the back, I was pleased how I was able to move forward and gain a lot of that track position back. It was a good rebound. Looking forward to getting back on track at Indy.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 5th: “Another top five. I’m so proud of (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and al the guys on this 10 team. That’s four top fives in a row. What a weekend we had here in Pocono, got a lot of stage points and finished third yesterday and fifth today. We’re riding a wave of momentum … We’ll go to Indy, a place that’s very similar to the tunnel turn at Pocono and felt like we were really good there this weekend.  I’m excited about Indy and another top five.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 6th: “Two races back-to-back was pretty cool. Knocked them both out in one weekend, but we got stage points in all four stages between the two races, so that’s good and I felt like we finished solid yesterday and today we had a good day. We got stage points in both and the second stage we were actually anticipating possibly giving up the stage points for our strategy to have a good finishing position, but it worked out to where we still had some solid restarts and got up there to get at least a couple points, so everything helps. That was big and today was just pretty much real smooth from start to finish, just was up there in that top 10 for most part start to finish for the day, so Greg and the team did a real solid job keeping us up there and having a real good strategy.”

William Byron — Finished 7th: “We ended up with a top-10 finish today which was good. It was definitely an improvement from yesterday – seven spots better to be exact – which is good. We still struggled a good portion of the race but I think we made the right calls and adjustments at the end. We had a lot of speed actually the last couple runs. I think the track kind of came to us and ultimately that’s what we needed. So we’ll go on to Indy and hopefully have a better run there.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “That was a tough race. We were just so loose today. By ourselves we were good and could turn in a good lap, but in traffic we struggled.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “It was an up-and-down day. So many people are on different pit strategies throughout the day here in Pocono. We had a top-10 car all day, just didn’t have the running positions to show for it. Greg (Ives) and the guys made great adjustments on pit road and really improved the car throughout the race. A top-10 finish today is good momentum for us going to Indy next weekend.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 13th: “The team made a lot of changes to the car from the race yesterday, but we still really struggled with the handling in traffic. The difference between dirty and clean air is crazy. The Monster Energy Chevy was good early on when we had track position (clean air) and we were able to lead all the laps and get the Stage 1 win, but just a tough ending for the No.1 team, a little Pocono Deja vu for us today!”

Austin Dillon — Finished 14th: “Everyone on the Symbicort Chevrolet team did a great job hanging in there today and working together to pull off a top-15 finish. We made a few adjustments to our car and strategy based on what we learned yesterday. There was a lot more grip on the track then what I figured there would be for a 4 p.m. race start. We just battled a tight-handling condition for most of the day today, especially at the beginning of the race. We had to free up a bunch. We missed stage points at the conclusion of Stage 1 by just one position, but then earned a few key Stage points at the end of Stage 2. During Stage 3, we worked our way into the top five before pitting for fuel with 13 laps remaining. All-in-all, can’t complain about a 14th-place finish.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 15th: “Overall, I think it was a solid weekend. We definitely learned some things on Saturday that we were able to adapt to for Sunday, but the track raced very differently on Sunday than it did on Saturday. We were really loose most of the race, but Brian (Pattie) made some great strategy calls to keep us running up front and ultimately get a top-15 finish at the end. We’re on a solid momentum streak and I’m looking forward to carrying that over to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend.”

Cole Custer — Finished 17th: “Thank you so much, guys. We got the car a lot better today. We definitely made gains and got the car better during the race. Well go get them next week.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 19th: “Wasn’t quite the day we were hoping for at Pocono Raceway, but we finished better than we did in yesterday’s race, and that’s an accomplishment for us. Our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang was decent in clean air, but we just couldn’t make it work in traffic. I was too tight whenever I got behind another car and we couldn’t quite get the handling right in order to really make the kind of gains we wanted to on track. I’m proud of my team and thankful for their effort.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 22nd: “Our Richard Petty Motorsports team made the right adjustments for what we fought yesterday, but it still was not the right adjustments; that is kind of the frustrating part. We did not have enough raw speed and couldn’t quite get the handling we needed. All-in-all, we came-out with a top-20 finish and it’s an improvement from yesterday. Good to get out of Pocono, and give us time to refocus before we come back.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 26th: “The balance of our CommScope Toyota was OK in Turns 1 and 3, but unfortunately we were still struggling in Turn 2, especially in the first 10 or 15 laps of the run. Obviously, we’re lacking overall speed, but we’ll just keep on digging. It was a good job by the guys all weekend. We just need to keep digging and we’ll get there.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 35th: “This weekend did not go at all how we wanted it to, but I’m proud of the No. 8 Caterpillar team for never giving up at any point. Unfortunately, when I came across the line to take the green flag today I lost all power steering and had to drop back to protect the car. Right as I was going to hit pit road to see what we could do to fix the handling, the caution came out for rain, which almost ended up helping us. I was able to pit and give my team the entire yellow to work on the car. We figured out we would be able to replace the alternator belt right as the red flag came out. Once the yellow flag came back out, my team worked as fast as they could to make the repairs but we still ended up a handful of laps down by the time we could rejoin the field. From that point on it was just a matter of capitalizing on everything that came our way to gain as many spots as we possibly could. Every point matters in the fight to make the Playoffs, and we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We got trapped a little bit with how the race played out, but we gave it our all today to get everything we could. I wouldn’t want to be racing with any other group than the one I have right now and am looking forward to getting back after it at Indy next weekend.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 38th: “I don’t know. The guys did an amazing job from yesterday to today. I guess it proves that if you get a little practice time in and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with so hopefully life gets back to normal eventually but we are in 2020, so it doesn’t surprise me getting crashed out of the lead. The M&M’s Camry was pretty fast today. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job. It’s just very frustrating and unfortunate. I know what happened but it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. It will just come across in a bad way.”

Christopher Bell — Finished 39th: “I was kind of rolling out there by myself, and I had a good gap between the guy in front of me and behind me, and it just stepped out getting into Turn 2 there. It’s disappointing, but I’m really happy with the speed that we’ve had these last couple weeks. Obviously, yesterday here we were really fast and we had another great car today, so these guys keep bringing really fast Rheem Camrys to the racetrack and we will have good shows.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 40th: “Today was a real shame. The first few laps of today’s race felt really good and I thought that we were going to have the opportunity for another strong run. I’m still proud of the race that we had yesterday and the speed that we’ve been showing all year. Unfortunately, it’s all part of the ups and downs of racing. I’m really proud of the effort by everyone at Front Row Motorsports for bringing us a competitive car and I’m ready to head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend and hopefully rebound after today’s unfortunate events.”

Denny Hamlin wins for the sixth time at Pocono on Sunday

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Denny Hamlin held off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to earn a Cup series-leading fourth win of the season and sixth of his career Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin pitted with 21 laps to go and took right side tires and fuel to get back on the track.

Harvick, who beat Hamlin to the checkered flag in Saturday’s race at Pocono, closed the margin between the pair, but there wasn’t enough time left for him to catch Hamlin. Harvick finished runner-up, tailing away in the last couple of laps to end up more than three seconds behind Hamlin at the checkered flag.

In winning his 41st career Cup race, Hamlin tied Jeff Gordon for most career Cup wins at Pocono. Hamlin’s six wins have come in 14 years at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle.

“Six? I can’t put it into words how much it means to me,” Hamlin told FS1 after the race. “I was hoping for no caution. I knew the car I had. I didn’t want to make any mistakes like at Bristol, where I gave that one away.”

Hamlin’s five previous wins at Pocono came in 2006 (twice), 2009, 2010 and last summer.

“I don’t think this will be the last one,” Hamlin said during a post-race media teleconference. “I think we’ll continue to build on it. I really wanted to win both races but it didn’t work out. I don’t want to be greedy.”

With the second-place finish, Harvick earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season and his 19th top-10 career finish in 40 starts at the Tricky Triangle, including five runner-up showings.

Ranking No. 1 in driver points, Harvick leaves Pocono with a commanding 52-point lead over Ryan Blaney in the Cup point standings.

“Our car today was actually better than yesterday,” Harvick told FS1. “(Hamlin) just did the opposite than we did. We didn’t want to get caught a caution and wound up losing too much time in lapped traffic. He was out there running clean laps and waited to the very end and wound up in front of us. (Saturday), that won us the race and today we finished second.”

MORE: Results, standings for Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono

Erik Jones finished third, followed by Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola.

The cars of Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. were each found to have one unsecured lug nut. There were no other post-race inspection issues.

The start of the race was delayed more than 30 minutes due to lightning. Then, after the first six laps under green flag conditions, there was a nearly one-hour delay due to rain.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kurt Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

Who had a good race: Erik Jones earned a season-best third-place finish, as well his sixth top-10 finish in eight career starts at Pocono. … Aric Almirola earned his fourth consecutive top-five.

Who had a bad race: Kyle Busch was battling with Ryan Blaney on Lap 76 when he spun and wrecked, leaving Busch winless this season. … Michael McDowell, who had a strong eighth-place finish in Saturday’s race, spun and hit the wall hard on Lap 16. He finished last in the 40-car field.

Notable: Sunday marked the first tripleheader in NASCAR history, where all three national series raced at the same location and on the same day. … Cole Custer (17th) was the highest-finishing rookie.

What’s next: Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; at 4 p.m. ET July 5 on NBC.

Follow @JerryBonkowski