By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Denny Hamlin knocked his season-long nemesis out of the race during a late battle for the lead, then streaked ahead Sunday in the No. 11 Toyota to become the winningest driver in Pocono Raceway history.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won for the third time this season and passed Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon for most wins at Pocono with seven. Hamlin swept two races at Pocono in his rookie season in 2006, and added wins in 2009, 2010, 2019 and 2020.
Hamlin held off JGR teammate Kyle Busch, still looking for a new contract with Gibbs, to reach victory lane.
Hamlin also tied Tony Stewart on the NASCAR’s career wins list with 49.
“I just wanted to be a local short-track racer in Virginia. That’s all I really cared about,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin first had to take out Trackhouse Racing driver Ross Chastain to clear his path down the stretch.
Chastain wrecked Hamlin two times in a month earlier this season, prompting Hamlin to spew he had “reached my peak” with the aggressive driving of the watermelon farmer. Perhaps as payback, Hamlin refused to give his rival an inch off a late restart at Pocono and ran Chastain into the wall. Chastain slammed the wall and triggered a wreck that collected several drivers, including winless Kevin Harvick, who is fighting for a playoff spot.
“What did you want me to do? What did you expect me to do,” Hamlin asked.
Hamlin said he was “at the end of it” with his frustration with Chastain but was mildly booed by the Pocono fans for denying them what could have been a thrilling battle to the checkered flag.
Chastain, who has two wins this season, said he understand why he finished his race in the wall.
“I think that’s something that’s been owed to me for a few months now,” Chastain said.
Hamlin got the last word, but does it squash their beef? Perhaps not, the wife of Chastain’s race team owner Justin Marks tweeted, “Game. On.”
Busch finished second, followed by Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez.
Hamlin’s win kept NASCAR with 14 drivers in the playoffs with two spots left over the final five races before the field is set.
KURT BUSCH SIDELINED
Ty Gibbs finished 18th for 23XI Racing in his first career Cup start.
Kurt Busch was not cleared by NASCAR’s medical staff to compete Sunday’s and the 23XI Racing driver was replaced by the 19-year-old Gibbs.
Busch tweeted he suffered from “concussion-like symptoms” from a hit suffered during Saturday’s qualifying session. Busch was not cleared on Sunday morning by NASCAR’s medical staff to compete.
Gibbs said he had to pull over on the side of the highway and collect his thoughts when he got the call Saturday to replace Busch. Gibbs was already back in North Carolina and hopped on a racing simulator until 1 a.m. to get himself ready for his debut.
“I’m very thankful just to come into this whole thing,” he said. “I did not expect it at all. It means a lot. I’m going to very disciplined in these situations.”
IndyCar and NASCAR share next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IndyCar races Saturday on the road course; NASCAR races Sunday.
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