NASCAR Cup teams are still baffled by the Pocono disqualifications

from Bob Pokras
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Gibbs Racing decided to do a little show and tell in the NASCAR Cup Series garage six days after there was a car that won the race and a car that finished second disqualified post at Pocono.

Next to the Denny Hamlin vehicle itself stood a nose with vinyl tape (known as helicopter tape) strategically placed at the corners where it would attach to the splitter.

It was the piece that cost Hamlin the win at Pocono, according to JGR. NASCAR didn’t want to look to check and probably wasn’t too happy that JGR was flaunting his illegal nose for all to see.

JGR Show and Tell

JGR Show and Tell

Sitting in front of a Joe Gibbs race dump truck in Indianapolis, this exhibit is clearly from the 11 car at Pocono.

JGR’s motivation can come from several areas:

  • He wanted to show how little was done to the nose of the car, trying to emphasize that even if it was illegal, it wasn’t a disqualifying offence.
  • He wanted to show other teams what JGR did so they wouldn’t make the same mistake.
  • He wanted to show that he was transparent about how he broke the rules.

There is no doubt that having these pieces of tape helped the drag or downforce in the car – that they were put on the car to help with handling. But even opposing team executives pointed out that it probably wasn’t the main difference as to why Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 1-2 before their disqualifications.

So where does NASCAR go from here? NASCAR race officials declined to comment during the weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to discuss penalties and philosophy.

NASCAR officials don’t have to speak up to convey the message that they are willing to go to any length to enforce what they believe to be a rule violation.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot worse,” Hamlin crew chief Chris Gabehart said. “I didn’t expect a DQ… For something so small to escalate to this level, there’s no way everyone in the garage isn’t horrified.”

Gabehart swears he didn’t even know JGR was putting that tape on the cars, something that seems hard to believe.

“I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’s true, neither me nor any of my colleagues [as crew chiefs]I knew it was on the car,” he said. “This is a sport that takes thousands of man-hours a week from hundreds of people to put a car on the track every Sunday.

“And if I limit us to the point where I have to know everything about every nut and bolt, [our] Team 11 will no longer be the winningest team in the last three and a half years.”

With the new next-generation car, NASCAR said it will be diligent when it comes to enforcing the rules because parts come from individual suppliers and cannot be modified.

How will Chase Elliott get the trophy from Denny Hamlin?

Disqualifications at Pocono made Chase Elliott the winner. But it doesn’t sound like Elliott is interested in asking Denny Hamlin for the trophy.

It led to the first disqualification of a Cup winner in 62 years, as well as a 100-point penalty (plus 10 playoff points) to Brad Keselowski earlier this year and Michael McDowell just this past week.

“It’s overkill for what it was,” Bush said. “But I understand the process on this car and I made sure the example was there and they did the same with Brad’s team and [McDowell’s] team.”

Hamlin, who also owns two Cup cars, gave a “it is what it is” type of response. He said he didn’t resent the violations and that JGR shouldn’t have done it if he was breaking the rules. He just knows it wasn’t a big deal when it came to determining the final order.

“I thought we had one of those big Richard Petty engines in the car or something, but not this time,” Hamlin said. “It was a piece of tape, but they are nice [insistent] that this is the way they want to start with this new car.

“I just hope it’s consistent for everybody, regardless of who wins the race.”

Hamlin said he understood that JGR’s violation was for something added to a main part and that Keselowski and McDowell’s penalties were for modifying a main part, meaning more points and suspensions (they cannot be disqualified because their violations were found several days later at NASCAR’s technical center).

Other teams certainly took notice, though the drivers said they wouldn’t go into detail about what their teams are doing to push the gray areas of the rulebook in hopes of leniency in the tech bay or NASCAR admitting it didn’t break the rules — and then create a new rule to make sure it does in the future.

The owners certainly don’t want to be penalized. And they won’t throw stones.

“I’m just glad it’s not us,” said car owner Roger Penske, who also owns the IndyCar Series. “We need to have a level playing field for all of us to compete on.” It is the same for all teams and all drivers.

“I guess I take my hat off to NASCAR, but they have to make sure it’s level throughout the organization and the industry. But we’re glad we’re not involved in anything like that. We had our time, too. So we have to sit in the back row on this one.”

Roger Penske on JGR’s disqualifications

Roger Penske on JGR's disqualifications

Roger Penske reacts to Joe Gibbs Racing’s disqualifications at Pocono.

JGR said it would change procedures to try to avoid any problems in the future. The fact that the team is not appealing the penalty shows that it admits it was wrong.

But that doesn’t mean JGR engineers won’t spend just as many hours poring over wind tunnel data and running simulations to try to get better.

“All the details together make them better than everyone else,” Gabehart said. “So if you ask me does this one detail make the difference? The answer is “No”.

“But it’s what that one detail represents that makes the difference between winning and losing.”

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Think out loud

When NASCAR gave Ross Chastain a 30-second penalty at the end of the race, it was the obvious decision.

The rule may be vague, but there is no way a pilot is allowed to reduce course and advance in position.

Punishing Ross Chastain was the right decision

Punishing Ross Chastain was the right decision

Quick Thoughts: Bob Pokras says it was an obvious call for NASCAR to penalize Ross Chastain for missing the first turn.

Chastain was running fourth on the final restart and, after using an access road to avoid Turn 1, moved into second, side-by-side with Tyler Reddick.

You cannot pass two drivers by crossing the course. That doesn’t make sense. NASCAR imposed a 30-second penalty.

NASCAR rules for the race were that if you missed Turn 1, it would be a stop-and-go penalty. But this is a judgment call because drivers can be pushed off the race track.

Even if Chastain could claim he was forced out (he said he would never do the U-turn), he certainly improved his standing, and there’s no way NASCAR is going to let that happen.

NASCAR would probably be better off having a specific rule for Turn 1 next year.

Social spotlights

Stats of the day

Tyler Reddick is the only repeat winner in the last six road races. The previous five races were won by Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Reddick.

They said it

“All people do at the end of these things is just dive in there and smash them. I don’t know who pushed who and I don’t care.’ Ryan Blaney at the IMS final

Bob Pokras has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR with Bob Pokras newsletter!

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