Denny Hamlin‘s hopes of a second straight NASCAR Cup Series victory were dashed before the race could even start. During Sunday’s eventually-rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a tungsten ballast fell from his car, quickly dropping him to the back. Regardless of his finish, he will likely be without his main lieutenants for the next four races due to impending suspensions for his crew chief, car chief, and engineer.
During pre-race pace laps, the ballast fell out of his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing car, forcing him to pit road. For safety reasons, he was prohibited from starting the race as his pit crew worked to add a new ballast. He finally joined the race after eight laps, though in last. When rain hit the track on lap 50 to produce a red flag, he was still in fortieth and nine laps behind leader Kurt Busch.
The ballast, which is added to help the car meet weight requirements, poses a serious danger to other drivers as it can smash through windshields and hurt them. Although Hamlin’s happened during pace laps and therefore lower speeds, this is an even greater concern had it happened in race conditions. Joey Gase would hit the ballast, causing him to fall off the pace when the race began before pitting.
Brian Murphy, a fabricator at Stewart-Haas Racing, noted, “A 2 5/8” x 3 5/8” x 6” of Tungsten weighs 35lbs and costs $1877 from SRI.”
During the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Carl Long and Jamie Dick were victims of such pieces falling out of other cars. At that year’s Dover race, a tungsten weight dropped from Peyton Sellers‘ car and Long hit it, causing it to go into his radiator and him to hit the wall; Long hurt his shoulder in the wreck. A few weeks later at Iowa, tungsten fell from Ross Chastain‘s car and into Dick’s windshield. The ballast smashed through the windshield and impacted his helmet, with the visor sustaining heavy damage, though Dick was uninjured.
Long’s crew chief Sebastian LaForge tweeted photos of the damage, noting Long suffered a broken shoulder in the accident.
Due to these risks, NASCAR has heavy punishments for infractions.
“Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle will result in a four Race suspension of the crew chief, car chief, and head engineer,” reads NASCAR’s rule book 126.96.36.199.4.d. “If NASCAR cannot identify which series or vehicle the lost ballast originated from, all vehicles entered for that Event from and associated with the team organization identified on the lost ballast may receive the suspensions.”
As such, a four-race suspension is likely in the works for Hamlin’s crew chief (Chris Gabehart), car chief (Brandon Griffeth), and head engineer. Formal penalties will not be announced until later in the week.
The 600 is the third race since the resumption of the NASCAR season. Hamlin won the previous round, a Wednesday night event at Darlington Raceway, for his second victory of the year.