Last weekend at New Hampshire, Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin had to watch as Kevin Harvick made a last lap pass to capture the checkered flag but what a difference a week can make in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hamlin found himself in another battle for a trip to victory lane in the closing laps on Sunday at Pocono but this time he was able to take the lead and hold on to it for his third win of the season
The race quickly turned into a fuel mileage event as every driver and crew chief came into the race with their own strategy that played out for some and had others leaving Pocono rethinking the decisions that they had made. Hamlin passed his teammate Erik Jones for the lead on lap 144 of the scheduled 160 lap event but a late race caution extended the distance by three laps and at Pocono with its huge 2.5-mile triangle shaped track that was an added seven and half miles of racing.
Once in the lead the veteran Hamlin continued to save as much gas as possible and that included resisting the urge to extend in his lead. He was content to keep a comfortable enough lead instead of trying to stretch it out as he knew that being in clean air was making all the difference as catching the leader and then making the pass was extremely tough.
Hamlin and Jones was joined across the finish line in third place by their JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. giving the organization a very impressive 1-2-3 finish and add a ninth place finish by Gibbs' flag bearer Kyle Busch further solidifies the organization as the most dominant operation in the sport. The organization leads the series with a total of 11 wins in the first 21 races of the season with Truex Jr. and Busch leading the way with four wins each followed by Hamlin's three. Each of those wins awards the driver five playoff points that a driver carries with him throughout the first nine races of the playoffs leading up to the season ending race at Homestead-Miami where the highest finishing driver of the four eligible drivers is crowned the series champion.
Busch and Truex Jr's win total leads the series but a closer look at the numbers show just how dominating of a year that Busch is putting together. He trails Joey Logano by six points in the point standings but that is the only stat where he doesn't find himself in first place. Maybe the best stat to show the consistency of Busch's No. 18 team is in laps led where he has led a staggering 1,015 laps with the second closest being Brad Keselowski with 790.
Busch also leads all drivers with eight stage wins with Logano one win back with seven. Each stage wins comes with a playoff point that is added to a driver's total entering the playoffs. The first and second stage of each race also provides the field the opportunity to pick up extra points that are used in the season long points chase.
The winner of each stage earns ten points with second receiving nine and for every spot lower the total is reduced by one until the tenth place driver earns one point.
Those points are so important to a driver in the points chase whether it be those drivers trying to stay above the bubble spot in 16th or the drivers competing to win the regular season point's chase. The winner of the points chase after the 26th race on the schedule receives 15 playoff points, 2nd place is awarded 10, 3rd place 8, 4th place 7 with each spot below earning one less point to the 10th place driver who receives one point.
It will always be about winning, but as we draw closer and closer to the end of the regular season there will be more and more racing for points. It doesn't matter if you get in the playoffs with a win or with points, it only matters that you get in. So get your calculators ready because it's time to start crunching the numbers.