Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Denny Hamlin became the second rookie in as many years to win at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway with a stirring come from behind drive in Sunday's Pocono 500.
Polesitter Hamlin dominated the opening quarter of the 200-lap race, building a lead of more than seven seconds before a left rear puncture at nearly 200mph sent him spiralling through the infield grass at the treacherous tunnel turn.
With the left rear corner of his #11 FedEx Chevrolet destroyed, his Joe Gibbs Racing crew set about making repairs while at the same time keeping their driver on the lead lap and while they managed to achieve that goal despite nearly a dozen extra pitstops, it left Hamlin as low as 40th in the running order.
Hamlin's rise through the field was stunning, assisted by a 70 lap green flag stretch between laps 70 and 140 that encapsulated two rounds of green flag pitstops. Those stops saw a number of the leading contenders strike difficulties allowing Hamlin to gain bundles of track position.
By lap 110 Hamlin was back in the top ten and had risen to fifth within a further ten laps. Making swift work of Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch moved Hamlin into second spot by lap 160 and shortly before the final round of stops (also held under green flag conditions) he passed Greg Biffle for the lead.
By the time the order had cycled around at the conclusion of the pitstops Hamlin enjoyed a healthy three second lead, which he continually extended until the seventh and final caution period of the afternoon waved with eleven laps remaining when a brake-less Jeff Gordon crashed hard into the outside wall in turn one.
Race officials decided to throw the red flag in order to clear the extensive debris left by Gordon's wreck, eventually leaving Hamlin with a five lap sprint to the finish.
Aiding the rookies cause was the fact that Biffle suffered a tyre failure after running over Gordon's debris and had to pit, as did several other lead lap cars, which left Hamlin's fellow front row starter Busch as his nearest competition. Busch's car wasn't as strong as Biffle's and so it proved when the green flag waved as Hamlin accelerated away into the distance to record his first points paying Nextel Cup victory and moved into the top ten in points in the process.
Busch's second place helped steady a patchy season while third place for Stewart was just reward for a heroic drive from the still injured defending series champion.