In a stunning development, NASCAR announced Sunday evening that Chase Elliott has been declared the winner of the M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway after both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch's cars failed post-race tech inspection.
After Hamlin took the checkered flag in Sunday's race with Kyle Busch just behind him in second, both Joe Gibbs Racing cars failed post-race inspection, resulting in both drivers being disqualified from Sunday's race. As a result, Elliott -- who crossed the finish line third -- was declared the winner per the NASCAR rulebook.
The victory marks Elliott's fourth of the 2022 season and the 17th of his career. This marks the first time that the winner of a Cup Series race has been disqualified for failing post-race inspection since NASCAR resumed the practice of stripping wins from cars deemed illegal in 2019.
M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 results
- #9 - Chase Elliott
- #8 - Tyler Reddick
- #99 - Daniel Suarez
- #20 - Christopher Bell
- #5 - Kyle Larson
- #34 - Michael McDowell
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- #23 - Bubba Wallace
- #43 - Erik Jones
- #3 - Austin Dillon
According to NASCAR, the infractions on the No. 11 Toyota driven by Hamlin and the No. 18 Toyota driven by Busch both concerned the aerodynamics in the front fascia, though Cup Series managing director Brad Morgan did not offer specifics on what the exact infraction was in comments made to the media.
"There really was no reason why there was some material that was somewhere where it shouldn't have been. And that does basically come down to a DQ," Moran said.
Both Hamlin and Busch's teams will have the opportunity to appeal the penalty by noon on Monday, July 25, according to NASCAR. Both cars will be taken back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. for further inspection.
This marks the first time that NASCAR has stripped a driver of a victory in a NASCAR Cup Series race for failing post-race tech inspection in 62 years. In an April 1960 race at Wilson Speedway, Emanuel Zervakis was disqualified for having a fuel tank that was too large, leading to NASCAR awarding the win to Joe Weatherly.
It's also the first time that the top two finishers in a race have been disqualified since a race at West Palm Beach in December of 1955, when both Weatherly and second-place finisher Jim Reed were stripped of their finishing positions for an illegal camshaft and illegal valves, respectively. The win was awarded to Herb Thomas, who finished third.
Here is a recap of Sunday's race written immediately after the checkered flag. Some details have been modified to reflect the official finishing results:
Hamlin vs. Chastain, Part III
After a quick pit stop allowed Ross Chastain to take the lead from Kyle Busch during a cycle of green flag stops, Hamlin had made his way to second and was looking to run down Chastain when a crash by Ryan Blaney brought out a caution with 23 laps to go. That pitted Chastain and Hamlin side-by-side on the ensuing restart, which is where things got really interesting.
At a disadvantage on the bottom of the track in Turn 1, Hamlin got an angle off the corner by force, leaning into Chastain's door as the two exited the corner side-by-side for the lead. The aggressive move by Hamlin ran Chastain wide and up the racetrack, where he hit the outside wall and then shot down into the path of Kevin Harvick, who spun Chastain around and into the inside wall.
All optics suggested that Hamlin's move was payback against Chastain for two incidents in the past two months at Gateway and Atlanta. On his account, Hamlin made it clear that he was going to stand his ground given the way he has been raced by Chastain as well as others.
"I mean, what'd you want me to do? What'd you expect me to do?", Hamlin asked rhetorically in his post-race interview. "We got position on him, and he just ran out of racetrack ... We're gonna just keep racing hard until we get the respect back from these guys.
"It's not just that -- we've been wrecked four times, twice while leading, in the last 10 months. I'm at the end of it."
While Hamlin did not directly answer whether or not the score was now settled between himself and Chastain, Chastain seemed to accept it as such, acknowledging that Hamlin has owed him one.
"I think that's something that's been owed to me for a few months now," Chastain told NBC Sports. "... I've been owed that and probably some more for a few months now."
Unfortunately, Hamlin's move on Chastain came with some collateral damage for a driver trying to make the playoffs. Harvick's contact with Chastain led to Harvick going from running fourth to finishing 29th. As a result, Harvick is now 83 points back of Martin Truex Jr. for the final spot in the playoffs on points with five races to go.
Ty for your help
While Hamlin's day saw him go all the way up and then all the way down, his 23XI Racing team had plenty of ups and downs to deal with themselves. After a crash in qualifying on Saturday left him suffering from concussion-like symptoms, Kurt Busch was not cleared to race by NASCAR on Sunday morning. That meant that Ty Gibbs -- a NASCAR Xfinity Series star and the grandson of Joe Gibbs -- was tabbed to fill in for Busch and make his Cup Series debut behind the wheel of the No. 45.
Gibbs spent much of the race logging laps in his first action behind the wheel of a Cup car, but he was able to make the experience he gained count by the finish. Gibbs ran up inside the top 15 late in the race before settling in to finish a respectable 16th.
Whether or not Gibbs' substitute services will continue to be needed remains to be seen. A statement by Busch released on Sunday suggested that he was targeting a return to competition next week at Indianapolis.
Race Results Rundown
- With a third place finish, Daniel Suarez scored his fifth top-five finish of the year, setting a new career-best for top fives in a single season. Suarez's previous best had been four top fives in 2019.
- While a fifth-place finish isn't much for a driver of Kyle Larson's caliber, his finish was significant in that Sunday marked crew chief Cliff Daniels' first race back from a four-race suspension for losing a wheel at Sonoma. With Daniels back atop the pit box, Larson led for the first time since Sonoma, pacing the field for 18 laps before scoring a top-10 finish.
- Michael McDowell and Front Row Motorsports continue to show how far they've come. With a sixth-place finish, McDowell continued to build on his career-high mark of top-10 finishes, and he now has eight on the year -- exactly double the amount he scored in 2020, which was at that point a career-high for the longtime journeyman who is finally enjoying sustained success.
- How quickly the narrative changes: Bubba Wallace ran inside the top five, led multiple laps for the first time since Talladega in April and finished eighth to score consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his Cup career. Wallace's fourth top 10 of the year exceeds the amount he scored in all of 2021, and just one more will tie his career-high set in 2020.
- Some needed runs inside the Top 10: Erik Jones salvaged his weekend after a massive points penalty and the loss of his crew chief for a technical infraction, leading 11 laps and finishing ninth. Austin Dillon finished 10th, scoring his first top 10 finish since Darlington back in May.
- Alex Bowman finished 11th to get back on the right track, snapping a two-race streak of DNFs due to crashes while also scoring his best finish since the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
- Harrison Burton is starting to make a regular appearance in this section of our recap. After employing an alternate strategy early in the race, Burton led a handful of laps for the fourth week in a row. He later finished 23rd, becoming the highest-finishing rookie after an early crash ruined Austin Cindric's race.
The NASCAR Cup Series hits the bricks next weekend, as they head to the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second-ever race around the track's infield road course. The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard is next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.