What would have been a banner day for Joe Gibbs Racing went up in smoke when Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch‘s 1–2 finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series round at Pocono Raceway instead ended in disqualification for failing post-race inspection. Nevertheless, NASCAR announced Monday that the team has decided not to appeal the penalties.
Hamlin and Busch were done in when their cars were revealed to have illegal material stuck to the front fascia. In particular, there were strips of tape that were hidden by the liveries’ wrap which impacted vehicle aerodynamics.
“In our review of the post-race infractions on the #11 and #18 cars at Pocono it was discovered that a single piece of clear tape was positioned over each of the lower corners of the front fascia ahead of the left-front and right-front wheel openings on both those cars,” stated JGR competition director Wally Brown. “The added pieces were two inches wide and five ½ inches long with a thickness of 0.012 inches and installed under the wrap. This change in our build process was not properly vetted within our organisation and we recognize it is against NASCAR’s rules. We apologize to everyone for this mistake, and we have made changes to our processes to ensure that it does not happen again.”
With the disqualification, Hamlin received the dubious honour of being the first Cup race winner to lose his victory via penalty since Emanuel Zervakis at Wilson Speedway in 1960 for an overly large fuel cell. Five years prior, Palm Beach Speedway saw the last premier series case of the top two being disqualified in Joe Weatherly and Jim Reed for illegal parts. Hamlin is also the third race winner to suffer the fate since NASCAR implemented the current post-race inspection policy in 2019; ironically, the other two cases have ties to him as Busch was disqualified after winning the 2020 Texas Xfinity race while rival Ross Chastain was caught at the 2019 Iowa Truck event.
“We don’t want to be here talking about this,” commented Cup Series managing director Brad Moran after Sunday’s race. “We just saw a great race. Last thing you want to do is meet here afterwards and talk about this problem. But the teams and the owners and everybody is well aware that this new car was going to be kept with some pretty tight tolerances, and there’s some areas that all the teams are well aware that we cannot be going down the path that we had in the past with the other cars.”
Third-placed Chase Elliott inherited the win as a result. In a press conference on Monday, he clarified he had no intention of “celebrating someone’s misfortune” and was open to letting Hamlin keep his trophy.
“I don’t know the details of what went on,” said Elliott. “I don’t know what made them make that decision. It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of or something I’m going to boast about over the course of the situation. I thought we were very fortunate to run third, to be honest with you. I thought we started off okay, then struggled at the midpoint of the event, and I thought for us to get back into the top five is really a good day.
“[…] No race car driver wants to win that way. Whether it gets overturned or not overturned or whatever, I’m not going to celebrate somebody’s misfortune or whatever in that situation. That doesn’t seem right to me. I crossed the line third, so that’s kind of how I’m looking at it.
“Honestly, if he wants to keep it, he can keep it as far as I’m concerned. He crossed the finish line first. […] I didn’t really feel like I earned it on track yesterday, so if he wants to keep it then I’m good with that. I’m not going to ask for it.”
Despite the disqualifications, Hamlin and Busch are still virtually locked into the playoffs as race winners.
“Toyota and TRD are disappointed with the disqualifications that came at the end of Sunday’s Pocono Cup Series race,” added Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson. “However, as we’ve stated throughout the Next Gen process, we applaud NASCAR’s hyper-vigilance when it comes to policing the rules on this new race car. We have been in close communication with Joe Gibbs Racing and they have acknowledged that the tape added to the front facia’s of the #11 and the #18 was not permissible by NASCAR’s rules. We stand by the team’s decision not to appeal the disqualifications and also continue to stand by NASCAR’s efforts to keep the playing field fair for everyone competing in the series.”