LONG POND, Pennsylvania. Chase Elliot had just touched down from his plane ride from Pocono when messages started pouring in from friends congratulating him on his latest NASCAR victory.
“No, we finished third,” Elliot replied.
Yes, he finished third, but he won the Pocono race, all because of a bizarre disqualification that denied Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch a 1-2 finish and sent Elliott to last year’s win.
And he never took the lead.
Hamlin was the first disqualified Cup winner since April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina was annulled due to an oversized fuel tank.
The NASCAR inspection team found issues in both Toyota JGRs that affected aerodynamics and discarded trim.
Hamlin’s win gave him a career lead – at least for a few hours – in the Poconos with seven. Hamlin’s little daughter burst into tears of joy, and he sent her for the checkered flag. Taylor Hamlin grabbed the flag as she slipped through the passenger’s side window and did a lap of honor around the Pocono with her father at the wheel.
Taylor Hamlin still owns the flag.
As for the winner’s prize, Hamlin sent Elliott an Eagle trophy, possibly the least valuable he had.
“Personally, I didn’t want to celebrate it,” Elliott said. “That’s not how I want to win the race. We all want to win them right away and make sure we feel like we deserve it. We want to earn it every week.”
NASCAR’s decision reignited the debate over whether winners should forfeit winnings due to rule violations.
Winning teams caught breaking the rules prior to 2019 were punished with post-race penalties, points deductions and/or disqualification. But so far, the riders have not been deprived of victories.
Bush said that NASCAR’s decision was “a little over the top” and used quotes from the air when he said the violation was egregious.
“Honestly, if something has been missed, that is the price we have to pay as a team. We win and we lose together,” Bush said. “So the cars have to be right, and now more than ever because the rules and violations are so strict.”
Busch moved to Richard Childress Racing and has three wins this season. Hamlin officially finished 35th in the race and did not win again until the end of 2022. He has one win this season. Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR champion, had five wins last season but has yet to win the checkered flag this year. Elliott has missed seven races this season with injuries and suspensions, putting him in a position where he needs to win a race to make the playoffs.
Elliot is not among the top 16 scoring drivers. Sunday’s Pocono race marks the first of six races remaining in NASCAR’s version of the regular season to determine the playoff field.
“I think in a way it was nice to find new challenges and kind of push yourself in different areas,” Elliott said. “Actually, I don’t think it’s much different from the playoffs, like in the final 10. [races]”.
William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports took a series-best fourth pole position in Sunday’s race at 14:30. His time of 57.746 (170.235 mph) in the No. 24 Chevrolet was 0.122 seconds faster than his championship rival Martin Truex Jr.
Justin Haley said the economy played a key role in his decision to leave Kaulig Racing at the end of this season and sign a multi-year contract with Rick Ware Racing starting in 2024.
Haley, 24, took his only Cup win in July 2019 at Daytona, just his third start. He has been a regular at Caulig since 2022 and has finished in the top 10 five times this season. He is ranked 23rd in terms of the number of points included in the Poconos.
Haley said the deal with RWR was done within weeks. Rick Ware Racing does not have a full-time driver in either of the two cars this season, but has counted on Haley to help improve the organization’s fortunes.
“Perhaps, at first glance, this may seem like a strange step,” Hailey said on July 22. “But there’s a lot more depth to it than you might think.”
Kaulig Racing president Chris Rice said he hoped to nominate a replacement for Haley in August.
LOOK WHO’S BACK
Shane van Giesbergen will put his perfect mark in the NASCAR Cup Series on the line at the Indianapolis highway.
The three-time Supercars champion, who won the first street race in Chicago this month in his first career start, will return for the 91st Trackhouse Racing car when the series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13.
Two-time Cup champion Busch said van Gisbergen should enter Indy as the favorite.
“I would say the gap to Chicago would be smaller than the rest of the field that he had,” he said. “He beat us all by six to eight tenths of a second per lap. I would say that before Indy we should all be within two or three tenths, but he will still be the best.”