LONG POND, Pa. — NASCAR robbed Denny Hamlin of his victory at Pocono Raceway when his No. 11 Toyota failed inspection and was disqualified, awarding Chase Elliott the Cup Series victory.
Joe Gibbs Racing had Hamlin’s car and Kyle Busch’s #18 Toyota disqualified. Hamlin lost his record seventh win at Pocono and his third win of the season. Busch led a race record 63 laps.
NASCAR believed the last time it disqualified an apparent winner was April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina was canceled due to an oversized fuel tank.
Penalties can be appealed, and both Toyotas have been sent to NASCAR’s research and development center in North Carolina.
“There have been issues discovered that affect the aero in the vehicle,” NASCAR Cup Series General Manager Brad Moran said. “There really was no reason for there to be material that was somewhere it shouldn’t have been. And it basically comes down to a DQ.”
Moran said the parts in question were the front fascia – essentially the nose cone – and final decisions “should be settled by next week”.
Elliott, who finished third, picked up his fourth win of the season. He never led a lap in the #9 Chevy.
Moran said the “inspection rules have tightened” with the introduction of a new car this season. The new version of NASCAR is essentially a kit car. Teams get all the same parts from different vendors and have detailed instructions on how to put them together.
“We don’t want to be here talking about this issue,” Moran said. “But the teams and the owners and everyone were well aware that this new car was going to be kept to pretty tight tolerances. There are areas where all the teams are well aware that we cannot go the way we have had in the past with the other car.”
The failures spoiled what had been a banner day for JGR.
Hamlin had apparently won for the third time this season and passed Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon for most wins at Pocono with seven. Hamlin swept two races at Pocono in his rookie season in 2006 and added wins in 2009, 2010, 2019 and 2020. Now he remains tied with the four-time NASCAR champion.
Hamlin had a lot to deal with from the start, when the poleman scored the wall on the opening lap. He recovered – at 400 miles on the 2 1/2 mile tri-oval, there are plenty of races to come – and then had to watch Busch lead the majority of the race. Oh, so there was that thorny issue of settling a lingering score with Ross Chastain.
Chastain destroyed Hamlin twice in a month earlier this season – Hamlin scored twice more since last season – and was fed up with the watermelon farmer’s aggressive driving. Hamlin refused to give his rival a restart thumb at Pocono and forced Chastain into the wall with 16 laps to go in the race. Chastain slammed the wall and sparked a wreck that brought together several drivers, including winless Kevin Harvick, who is battling for a playoff spot.
“What did you want me to do? What did you expect me to do,” Hamlin asked immediately afterwards.
Chastain, who has won two victories this season at the wheel of Trackhouse Racing, understood, timidly, that an improvement was due.
“I think it’s something that’s been due to me for a few months now,” Chastain said.
Hamlin also lost his tie with former teammate Tony Stewart on NASCAR’s career wins list with 49.
“We’ve just been good friends and he’s definitely someone I look up to talent-wise,” Hamlin said. “He was the guy who for 36 races was a threat to win, and that’s what I hope will be the day.”
Hamlin is pretty close: He’s a three-time Daytona 500 champion and co-owner of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan. The only blemish on his resume is the championship he failed to win – and the first DQ of his Cup career.
Hamlin’s young daughter burst into tears of joy and he sent her to retrieve the checkered flag. Taylor Hamlin clutched the flag as she slipped out the passenger side window and took a ceremonial lap around Pocono with dad behind the wheel.
Ty Gibbs finished 16th for 23XI Racing in his first career Cup start replacing the injured Kurt Busch.
Busch suffered a head injury in a knockout Saturday during qualifying and was not cleared to race by NASCAR medical staff. This opened the door for 19-year-old Gibbs.
In a pinch, Joe Gibbs’ grandson wore Busch’s fire suit and Hamlin’s shoes.
“I never thought I would run with these guys,” Gibbs said. “It was just cool to be next to them on the track. For 10-year-old Ty, that means a lot.
Grandpa Joe was quite proud. “He was discouraged that he couldn’t get more out of it,” Gibbs said. “I think he realizes how difficult it is.”
Gibbs remains concerned that JGR has yet to find a new contact with Kyle Busch.
“We had a few businesses, we thought [were in] it ended up being a disappointment for us,” Gibbs said. “But it’s hard and it’s discouraging.”
IndyCar and NASCAR are splitting next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IndyCar races Saturday on the road course; NASCAR races on Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.