LONG POND, Pa. - A doomsday-like storm distinguished by heavy winds and sideways rain blew threw Pocono Raceway moments before the scheduled start of Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500.
But the ominous black clouds that enveloped the 2.5-mile speedway were just a prelude to the tempest that unfolded at the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, with a brawl nearly erupting trackside and winner Denny Hamlin clipping the wall while steering his No. 11 Toyota into Victory Lane.
"I hate to put a damper on the celebration," Hamlin said sheepishly, "because we knew from the get-go that we had a good car."
Hamlin led for a race-high 88 laps but had to drive his way from 15th on Lap 170 to his fourth win of the season and his fourth victory in nine starts here.
"It was just like Talladega [Superspeedway] at times, where we were four-wide for the lead," Hamlin said. "Guys decided late in the race that it was time to go."
A relatively clean race over the first 145 laps turned especially contentious late, when five of the day's seven caution periods fell, causing teams to repeatedly gamble on tires and fuel. Subsequent restarts were marked by the four-wide racing through narrow stretches of asphalt typically occupied by two cars, and the push-comes-to-shove driving resulted in several breathtaking incidents.
Kevin Harvick spun out Joey Logano going through the final turn of the 200th (and last scheduled) lap - with the pair vying for top-five finishes - prompting NASCAR's version of overtime. Then, on the green-white-checkered run to the finish, Hamlin beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to the checkered flag to end Lap 204 while watching in his rearview mirror as an eight-car pileup tore up the infield grass on the backstretch.
As Hamlin joined team owner Joe Gibbs to celebrate at the finish line, 20-year-old teammate Logano made a beeline for Harvick on pit road. The two orange-clad drivers exchanged words but were kept at a safe distance by their crew members.
Harvick finished fourth, while Logano ended up 13th. Both were summoned to the NASCAR hauler afterward.
Harvick, who holds the series lead by 19 points after 14 races, admitted hitting Logano but also said that Logano doesn't give "people any respect and not much room."
Logano did nothing to play down the incident.
"He let me go in the middle of the straightaway and then decided to dump me in the next turn," Logano said. "I don't know what his problem is with me, but it's probably not his fault. His wife [Delana] wears the fire suit in the family and tells him what to do."
While celebrating a one-two finish by Hamlin and Busch, Gibbs also came to the defense of his second-year driver.
"I think Joey has a real fire, but he's [normally] able to control himself," Gibbs said. "He's a young guy and he's been knocked around some. I'm just extremely disappointed with what happened because I felt this was [Logano's] best race of the season."
Third-place finisher Tony Stewart said of the late-race melee, "I saw some of the worst driving of my professional career. A lot of guys were racing like a bunch of idiots out there."