By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Saturday at Pocono Raceway saw a return to form, per say, for Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth in the opening race of the doubleheader for the NASCAR Cup Series.
Starting the year with eight top fives in the opening nine rounds, the No. 11 driver has only one top five in the last eight races, including none in the last five.
Saturday saw Hamlin lead 11 laps and run up front at Pocono, a track he’s won at six times. He believes he had the best car until the final restart with 19 laps to go.
“It was definitely a good improvement to the field over the last month or so,” Hamlin said. “Certainly in clean air, there were nobody faster than us. I thought we were the fastest car at the end.”
With a debris caution changing the game, Hamlin saw a potential victory, his first of 2021, fade away.
“I did not want to see that last caution,” he said. “We were right behind the [Nos.] 5 and 18, we had fresher tires and I thought we just go by those guys. That caution came out, I chose the outside line which was stupid. Our car didn’t accelerate well.
“Ultimately, we fell back to sixth and was able to come back for fourth. Our car was fast. Really, really fast.”
With himself and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in the top five, Hamlin hopes it’s a sign of improvement in a team-wide effort to close on Hendrick Motorsports, who have now won the last six races.
“Certainly, it was a step in the right direction,” he said. “A little concerning that our car didn’t accelerate good. But overall, I thought we cornered really well and that was good news.”