What a weekend in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
Denny Hamlin displayed his hypocrisy on aggressive racing, Austin Dillon chucked his helmet at Tyler Reddick and NASCAR found itself in a lose-lose situation at the finish.
So without further adieu, let’s dive into the Three Big Stories of the HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
1. Denny Hamlin hypocritically unleashes the aggression
As Hamlin climbed out of his car, the crowd in attendance showered him with boos and middle fingers. Five minutes earlier, he side-swiped Kyle Larson and took the lead. While Larson hit the wall in Turn 1.
“I’m not here to defend anything,” he said. “I put both those guys, (Alex Bowman) and 5, in an aero situation. Didn’t touch either one. How can you wreck someone you don’t touch?”
He went on to say he put Larson and Bowman in an “either let off the gas and race side by side, or hit the gas and hit the wall” situation.
Now with Bowman, the replays showed they never touched. The No. 48 got loose and spun out.
With Larson, however, unless you want to take a page from the NFL and use an index card to find a gap, he clearly touched Larson’s car.
In fact, it’s the same move Hamlin used to pass Ross Chastain at Pocono, last season.
Now I personally saw nothing wrong with Hamlin’s move on Larson. They were racing for the win and he didn’t intentionally dump him into Turn 1.
What I have a problem with, however, is Hamlin talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Just a year ago, Hamlin told Jim Rome that the younger drivers racing aggressively lacked respect for other drivers. Yet here he is doing the exact same thing he feuded with Ross Chastain over the course of the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Look, if Hamlin wants to be an aggressive driver, then embrace your inner Dale Earnhardt. If not, then embrace the ways of Mark Martin. And yes, sometimes, you’ll slip up and stray off the Martin path. When that happens, own up to it and apologize.
But don’t pretend you’re against people racing with a lack of respect, when you do the same.
2. Austin Dillon tosses his helmet (literally)
As the field worked its way through Turn 1 under caution on Lap 107, Dillon chucked his helmet at Reddick’s car. Minutes earlier, Reddick put Dillon into the wall.
Except he didn’t.
Dillon came down across the nose of Reddick’s car and turned himself into the wall. Though even after watching the replay, he wasn’t convinced he messed up.
“I felt like I was holding my own,” he said. “He was at my left-rear going in there, and I knew we were three-wide. I think I’ve got the right to at least hold my lane. I’ve got to turn at some point to get down. Brad (Keselowski) was on my outside, maybe a half-lane up. But Tyler (Reddick) drove it in there, and obviously I feel like he drove it in there deep enough where he had to come up the track into me. We can look at the SMT and see the little fine movements that we make, but I felt like that was not the time to do that for the No. 45.”
I don’t understand why he expected Reddick to yield. It was just a case of two drivers going for the same real estate. And in this case, Dillon got the short end of the stick.
Then again, in the heat of the moment, you’re not always thinking clearly. So only time will tell if this racing incident spirals into something more.
Also, Dillon’s probably getting fined for walking onto a hot track.
3. NASCAR picked its poison
As the field came to the white flag, Ryan Preece spins and hits the inside wall on the short chute. So a caution comes out and we go to overtime, right?
NASCAR held the flag, waiting to see if Preece would get going.
Which he did, for a few feet.
When NASCAR realized this, it threw the caution. Since Hamlin took the white flag, that ended the race.
Now I know this contradicts what I said on Twitter, but after mulling it over for a night, I don’t know what else NASCAR could’ve done. Either it throws the caution right away and gets flack for not swallowing the whistle or this.
Unlike Richmond Raceway, Pocono is a massive track, where you complete laps in roughly 50 seconds. So it’s not unfeasible to hold the caution to see if Preece got going, again.
At the end of the day, it was a pick-your-poison situation that sometimes comes with the job of officiating.