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CHRISTIE: Like it or Hate it, Pocono is Why We Love NASCAR

It was a wild race Sunday at Pocono. Between Hamlin vs Larson; Dillon vs Reddick; Preece vs LaJoie; NASCAR race control vs timing of cautions; there was so much happening. At the end of the thrilling action, and controversial moments was a race that reminded us why we're all fans of NASCAR.


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Denny Hamlin is officially a 50-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he joins a prestigious list as the 15th racer who has accomplished the feat over the 75-year history of the NASCAR Cup Series.

As the 42-year-old Hamlin celebrated his historical victory Sunday on the frontstretch, the capacity crowd at Pocono Raceway didn't care one iota about the historical significance of Hamlin's victory in the HighPoint.com 400.

The crowd was pissed, and they let the winningest driver in the history of Pocono Raceway hear it. As Hamlin climbed from his car, he was greeted with a raucous chorus of boos.

You could cut the tension with a knife, and the reason for the hostility was the fact that Hamlin was perceived to be involved in two incidents in the final 11 laps of the race.

While Hamlin did not make any contact with Alex Bowman, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro did spin on Lap 149 with Hamlin bearing down on him.

However, Hamlin did make slight contact with Kyle Larson for the lead on Lap 154 in the 160-lap race.

Heading into Turn 1, Hamlin had worked his way under Larson for the race lead. In the middle of the turn, Hamlin made slight contact with the left side of Larson's car, which sent Larson into the outside wall on the exit of the corner.

Hamlin would go on by, while Larson would fade down the stretch to a 20th-place finish.

Hamlin played into the moment by raising his hand at the crowd, as he emerged from his car, to suggest he was surprised by their reaction. Hamlin stirred the pot further by proclaiming that he loved the boos during his victory interview, which was piped into the crowd by way of the track's PA system.

"I love it," Hamlin said of the boos. "They can boo my rock out here in a few years."

The rock Hamlin was referencing is a tradition at Pocono Raceway, where legendary drivers have their names and numbers featured on large rocks around the facility.

Hamlin further needled the crowd by denying any wrongdoing in the incident with Larson.

"Both guys wrecked themselves," Hamlin pointed, which incensed the crowd even further. "There was a lane. [Larson] missed the corner, first. And evidently, he didn't have his right side tires cleaned and when he gassed up, he just kept going again. You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence, or lift and race it out. Those are choices they made. Didn't hit either one of them, didn't touch them."

Like it, or hate it, it was a classic NASCAR moment. And it's the same type of moment that made us all fall in love with the sport, to begin with.

Some previous leadership may have even described Sunday's race as quintessential NASCAR, as there was good, hard, close racing with a tinge of controversy.

Like the crowd, Larson was pissed as well.

"Whatever. He's always right," Larson stated with dejection. "All the buddies know Denny is always right. I'm sure he was in the right there as well. It is what it is. I'm not going to let it tarnish a friendship on the track, but I am pissed. And I feel like I should be pissed."

It's what makes NASCAR unique to stick and ball sports. In stick and ball sports, there is one winner and one loser in each game, and on a given week in other sports, only half of the teams in the league suffer a loss.

In NASCAR, you have one winner and 35 or more losers in each race.

It's a humbling, disappointing, and sometimes humiliating sport. But it's what makes the triumphs feel so much more impressive. It's also what makes the controversial moments sting, even more, when you're on the losing side of them.

Wins are hard to come by, and Larson felt he had one ripped away. Hamlin feels like he did what had to be done to add another victory to his career tally.

As Larson said, "It is what it is."

But Hamlin vs Larson wasn't the only story on the day.

Austin Dillon was displeased by how he was raced by his former teammate Tyler Reddick.

On Lap 106, the two made contact in a three-wide battle for position, which sent Dillon hard into the outside wall.

Upon climbing from his mangled No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Dillon tossed his helmet at Reddick's car as Reddick drove by. Dillon missed. But he may not miss next time.

“I just need to start wrecking some people,” Dillon seethed after a trip to the infield care center.

While Dillon flashed the most anger that we've ever openly seen in his NASCAR career, Reddick said after the race that he didn't intend to make contact with Dillon.

Whether he intended to or not, Reddick may want to have a conversation with Dillon before this weekend's race at Richmond. Because Dillon was ultra-heated after his crash.

But that's not all.

With two laps remaining in Sunday's race, Ryan Preece apparently was turned in an incident with Corey LaJoie in Turn 2. This is the accident that led to the delayed caution flag by NASCAR, which was eventually shown on the final lap, which ultimately secured the win for Hamlin.

After climbing from his car following another disappointing day, Ryan Preece bolted toward LaJoie's No. 7 Chevrolet on pit road and unloaded an angry expletive-filled tirade on the Spire Motorsports driver.

While the fans were busy booing Hamlin and questioning NASCAR's decision to hold off on throwing the caution until the final lap, Preece and LaJoie were nearly throwing down on pit road with nobody the wiser.

There was so much happening.

Pocono may only have three corners, but there was something big happening around seemingly every one of them in the race.

Hours after Sunday's race was over, fans were still buzzing and weighing in on their thoughts about Hamlin, their thoughts about Larson, hell, fans were even weighing in on NASCAR's race control calls in the closing laps.

But the important thing? They were still talking about the race.

It was a huge weekend for Pocono Raceway.

The unique 2.5-mile speedway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania had taken it in the shorts over the last several years about a stale on-track product. However, following a great show last season with the debut of the Next Gen car, this year's edition of the event was sold-out.

With a capacity crowd on hand, the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series put on a show, and as the race ended, the drama was even more intense than it was while the race was ongoing. Pocono went from a track on the back burner to being a must-attend event. You love to see it.

It was a great weekend of racing action. Like it, or hate it, you have to admit it; Sunday's race was why you're a NASCAR fan.

Photo Credit: Ben Earp, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

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