Call it what you will- circumventing the rules, working in the gray area, finding a competitive advantage, or cheating – but all of those things have been a part of racing since racing has been a thing. And one would think that more often than not, despite the best efforts of the rule enforcers, many have gotten away with something that ultimately led to a victory.
That said, NASCAR has stated since early on in the development of the Next Gen car that they will not look favorably on teams that try circumvent the rules(or cheat) and they clearly demonstrated that on Sunday following the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at the Pocono Raceway. For the first time in the modern era of the NASCAR Cup Series, the sanctioning body took a win away from a victor because of a failure in post-race inspection.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin, which had finished first in the race, along with that of teammate and second-place finishing Kyle Busch failed post-race inspection on Sunday evening and were disqualified from the race. That action lifted Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott to the win.
JGR has opted not to appeal the penalty. On Monday, the organization issued a statement explaining what had happened.
— Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) July 25, 2022
Whatever the cause, NASCAR did not take kindly to it, and thus, delivered a harsh penalty. No doubt, that move sent a clear message to all teams.
The top-two finishers in NASCAR Cup Series races receive a thorough teardown following each event while the remainder of the top-5 are also looked at along with two random finishers. In the past, there have been fines levied, suspensions handed down, and warnings delivered for violations discovered during these inspections. But this punishment is the most severe of all for a race team.
Hamlin and Busch were credited with 35th and 36th place finishes respectively and received two points and one point toward the regular season standings.
One has to wonder if these were the only cars with violations or were they the only two that happened to get caught. From the view of this writer, the more likely scenario is that other cars had modifications that would have been deemed illegal if found but they were not. After all, NASCAR history is filled legendary stories of suspected and admitted violations that were not discovered during either pre or post-race inspections.
If that is indeed the case in modern-day NASCAR, those trying to slip one past inspectors have been put on notice. And keep in mind that there were a pair of disqualifications in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as well when violations were found on the top-five finishing cars of Noah Gragson and Landon Cassill.
I think it’s safe to say that crew members could very well be spending time this week either undoing or better hiding whatever tricks they might have added to their cars. The taking away of a win will no doubt send greater shock waves through the industry than any fine or suspension ever would.
Imagine if a race winner who needed the victory to earn a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs were to be disqualified. That would be a tough pill to swallow for both the team and its sponsors.
My guess is that Sunday’s stern action by NASCAR is causing many crew chiefs and car chiefs to either rethink their choices or to double check to make sure no mistakes have been made that might bring about the same result as that of Hamlin and Busch this past weekend. Post-race inspections suddenly got much more nerve racking for those with a vested interest in the process.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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