44-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Denny Hamlin will likely always have a soft spot for Pocono Raceway. After all, it’s where he won his first-ever Cup Series race in 2006, his first full season in the premier series, and also a year in which he made history at “The Tricky Triangle.” And he’ll look to make a little more history this weekend as he’ll have two chances to break a tie with Jeff Gordon as the all-time leader in wins on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Denny Hamlin won his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in June 2006
After making seven Cup Series starts in 2005, Hamlin began his official rookie season in 2006 with five top-10 finishes in his first 13 starts, including a runner-up finish in Richmond.
Coming off an 11th-place finish at Dover, the then-25-year-old came into Pocono Raceway, took the second pole of his young career, and got off to a fantastic start in the 200-lap Pocono 500. He led 49 of the first 50 laps before cutting the left-rear tire of his No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet and while he was able to avoid a major accident, he did have to run the remainder of the race with a damaged left-rear fender and dropped all the way back to 40th place.
Refusing to quit, Hamlin gradually worked his way back toward the front of the field, eventually passing Greg Biffle with 36 laps to go and hanging on for a 1.328-second victory over Kurt Busch. But Hamlin certainly wasn’t done for the season at “The Tricky Triangle.”
Six weeks later, he became the first rookie to sweep both Cup Series races at ‘The Tricky Triangle’ in the same season
Six weeks later, Hamlin returned to Pocono Raceway for the running of the Cup Series Pennsylvania 500. In the five races since his first victory, he’d finished 17th or better in each, including a sixth-place finish in New Hampshire the week before his second career start at Pocono.
Hamlin again took the pole in qualifying but there wouldn’t be nearly as much drama this time around. Running a near-perfect race, Hamlin led 151 of 200 laps on the way to a 1.510-second victory, again over Kurt Busch, who was the defending champion. Busch was able to cut into Hamlin’s lead on the final restart with 16 laps remaining, but Hamlin was truly never in danger of losing the race.
With the win, Hamlin became the first rookie in history to sweep both Cup Series events at Pocono Raceway in the same season and just the sixth overall, joining Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Tim Richmond, Bobby Labonte, and Jimmie Johnson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only other driver to accomplish the feat since, doing so in 2014.
Hamlin didn’t record another victory that season but finished third in the points standings and was named Rookie of the Year.
Hamlin becomes the solo leader in all-time wins at Pocono Raceway if he can take another checkered flag on the 2.5-mile tri-oval
Since the ’06 sweep, Hamlin has recorded four additional Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway. While not a same-season sweep, he won back-to-back starts at “The Tricky Triangle” with victories at the 2009 Sunoco Red Cross 500 and the 2010 Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. But he then went nine years without a win on the track until taking the checkered flag at the 2019 Gander RV 400.
And just last year, Hamlin won the Pocono 350, the second race of the doubleheader weekend in Long Pond, tying him with Jeff Gordon for the most all-time Cup Series victories at Pocono Raceway with six. With a second consecutive doubleheader at the track on tap this weekend, Hamlin will have two chances to take the all-time lead on his own, first on Saturday in the Pocono Organics CBD 325, and then on Sunday with the running of the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350.
Despite zero wins in 17 starts this season, Hamlin does have nine top-five finishes on the year and is just ahead (10 points) of Kyle Larson, the winner of the last three official Cup Series races and one of the All-Star races, in the No. 1 spot in the points standings.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference