For the first time in NASCAR history, the Cup Series will race back-to-back on consecutive weekend days at the same track—if Mother Nature shines on the parade.
When it comes to winning back-to-back, look no further than Denny Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota is the only driver to win at Pocono in pairs twice.
Hamlin, who currently leads all active drivers with five wins at the Tricky Triangle, earned his first and second career Cup victories by sweeping Pocono in 2006. His second Pocono pair came in August of 2009 and then in June of 2010.
After winning last August’s Gander RV 400, Hamlin would love to pull off the sweep this weekend but could pull off another double with a victory on Saturday.
“I’ve been very fortunate at Pocono Raceway, including last year when we got a win for the 11 team,” Hamlin said. “This is a track that I’ve come to enjoy, and winning never hurts.
“This will be the first weekend where we race on Saturday and Sunday, so a little different than what we have been used to the last few weeks, racing twice a week on Wednesday and Sunday. Not having those days between races to regroup and get ready presents its own set of challenges, but this FedEx team is so good, and we have things heading in the right direction.
“I know we’re all up for the challenge, and hopefully we leave with two new trophies to add to the collection.”
With three wins this season, Hamlin is already halfway to reaching last year’s mark of six victories, and he's only 13 races into 2020, the midpoint of the regular season. In his second year with Chris Gabehart as crew chief, the 39-year-old racer has had ample time to acclimate to a new leader at the helm. Hamlin has confidence that this team can contend every time they come to the track despite the new normal of competing without practice or qualifying.
“I can only control what I can control,” Hamlin said. “Whether that comes with age or experience, or whatever it might be, you can only control what you have in front of you and the effort that you put into each and every weekend is something you can control, and your attitude.
“I think I’ve maintained a positive attitude through this whole thing. I’ve put in the work to be good. When we get to the race track we’re seeing the results because of that.”
Running races on Saturday and Sunday at Pocono should offer most teams the opportunity to improve the setup from one race to the next. Although Pocono is one of Hamlin’s favorite tracks, he doesn’t believe his experience will necessarily constitute an advantage in making great gains from one race to the next.
“I don’t have more to learn there, and maybe some of the newer drivers will make the bigger strides from one race to the next,” Hamlin said. “Overall, I like our chances going there and turning around to put another setup in. If the first one doesn’t work, we’ll bounce back from a bad day, if we were to have one. I think we’re going to be pretty solid both days.”
In previous years, Hamlin has enjoyed the fan response leading up to the event and when he’s been fortunate enough to celebrate in Victory Lane. With the restriction of fans from most of the venues during the Covid-19 pandemic, the vibe has appeared odd at times to the drivers but Hamlin doesn’t believe to the extent of stick and ball sports. Still, he looks forward to the days when spectators can participate in the process.
“In the car it really doesn’t (matter), when you’re in the race and nothing has really changed,” Hamlin said. “You’re in a cocoon environment where you can’t really see a whole lot, you can’t hear a whole lot because you’re listening to your radio. It’s the before and after that has been the most transition for us. It’s not being able to celebrate after race wins – that has been the biggest difference being as we’ve won a couple races now since this has all happened. It is different.
“We’re starting to get some crowds back. The next three weeks we’re not going to have any because of state regulations, but certainly it hasn’t had any effect on the on-track product. I think we’re a different sport when it comes to that. It’s not a sport that feeds off of the crowd, or the crowd emotions. It’s not a play to play like baseball, or football, or something like that. It doesn’t feed off that energy once the race gets going. The energy is before and afterwards.”