How the race was won
Hamlin Polesitter Denny Hamlin turned disaster into a dynamic performance. He dominated early but blew a tire and spun roughly a quarter of the way through the race. But Hamlin, whose team made plenty of repairs, managed to stay on the lead lap. He worked his way back to the front and proved to be the best car in the field as a couple of long green flag runs allowed the No. 11 to regain that track position and drive away from the rest of the field to victory.
Story of the race
Hamlin's comeback en route to his first Cup points win.
And, to an extent, the continued effectiveness of SAFER barriers and other safety equipment.
Give 'em credit
Hamlin and Co.
Kurt Busch. Started second, ran well all day, finished second. This team needed a performance like this.
Tony Stewart. Sure, Pocono is "easier" than Dover, but still a heck of a showing for an injured guy.
Was there ever much doubt Greg Biffle would heat up? (He kept that hot streak going in impressive semi-comeback fashion on Sunday, though some late bad luck with his tire might have cost him a few spots.) And this year, is there ever doubt Matt Kenseth will finish a race well?
What were they thinking?
Pit mistakes wreaked havoc on several teams' days. Vickers was able to mostly recover from his penalty, but Kyle Busch was not. And Jeff Burton might have had a shot at a win had he eased up on the gas during his stop (though he still finished ninth). Jimmie Johnson also held on to a top-10, but speeding might have cost him several finishing spots.
Then there was Carl Edwards' No. 99 crew. Edwards drove to the front after starting 40th (due to a bad qualifying effort for which he took responsibility). But his crew didn't get the jack all the way under the car, and the 99 Ford fell to the ground as fast as Edwards fell back in the running order. Less than ideal for a team currently outside the top 10.
Kahne and Co. suffered from a similar (but not duplicate) problem, but Kahne recovered just fine.
Riggs. He took Mears out early and he knew it. Those early wrecks sometimes can be chalked up to over-aggressiveness, but they also are sometimes hard to avoid.
Better luck next time
Bobby Labonte. A late flat tire cost him an outside shot at a top-five finish, but Labonte still managed to come home 12th, accounting for his third consecutive finish between 12th and 17th.
Kevin Lepage doesn't get mentioned here too often, but he had worked himself into the top 20 before encountering mechanical woes. He finished 31st.
By the way ...
Green flag pit cycles. Three of 'em. Generally good stuff, but back-to-back green flag runs aren't always ideal.
Anyone else think No. 24 crew chief Steve Letarte might be off his game? We're not talking about Jeff Gordon's brake failure and subsequent rough wreck, but rather his plummet backward through the field after starting strong – which seems to be a common occurrence this season. Gordon takes responsibility for the team falling behind in recent years at Pocono. Could it be that Gordon isn't giving Letarte what he needs to improve the cars? Or perhaps Letarte just isn't making good use of the information. Either way, these guys need to get on the same (and right) page, or the Chase again will elude the No. 24.
NASCAR races feature some of the worst national anthem performances anywhere, but Sunday's rendition – performed by, as Bob Margolis writes, the guy who looks like Ron Burgundy – was pretty solid. Amazing that a decent national anthem has become noteworthy.
Also noteworthy is that Fox once again did a pretty decent job of covering the race. The network seems to have found its footing again after a miserable start to the season.
Grading the race
The Pocono straightaways allow for some wild action at times, but long green flag runs reduce opportunities for side-by-side racing there, and that's what happened on Sunday. Sometimes Pocono is a bit of a chess match, but the board cracked when those back-to-back cautions came around the one-third mark of the race. Some teams pit the first time, others the second, destroying much of the race's continuity. There still were some good stories to follow, but the race as a whole became far more difficult to follow – especially with the amount of green flag racing that came afterward. Again, sometimes there is too much of a good thing. One more caution would have helped this race tremendously. Instead, it was a bit odd, somewhat disorganized and just seemed a bit too long. Grade: C+
From the source
Denny Hamlin: "I honestly didn't think it would be this easy."
Jeff Gordon when asked if he's OK after crash: "I don't know how, but yes, I am. I've either got a really hard head or those guys at Hendrick Motorsports just build an awesome race car, because that was one of the hardest hits I've ever taken."