LONG POND, Pa. — The siren at the Dawsonville, Georgia, pool hall that sounds whenever Chase Elliott wins a race did indeed go off Sunday night without the hometown star ever leading a lap at Pocono Raceway.
“Winner, winner Joe Gibbs Racing are cheaters!” the Dawsonville Pool Room tweeted.
In an extraordinary decision for a NASCAR Cup Series race, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin had his Pocono win thrown out and runner-up and teammate Kyle Busch also was disqualified after their Toyotas failed inspections.
Elliott shot up from third place, and the Hendrick Motorsports driver was awarded his fourth victory of the season. He never led a lap in the No. 9 Chevrolet — and his car also was inspected by NASCAR.
Hamlin lost his record seventh victory at Pocono and his third win of the season. Busch led a race-high 63 laps.
NASCAR believed the last time it disqualified an apparent winner was April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina was thrown out because of an oversized fuel tank.
“We were shocked to learn of the infraction that caused our two cars to fail NASCAR’s post-race technical inspection,” Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “We plan to review every part of the process that led to this situation.”
The penalties can be appealed, and both Toyotas were sent to NASCAR’s research and development center in North Carolina for further evaluation. NASCAR said the infractions were not caught in the pre-race inspection because the wrap was not removed from the cars until after the race.
“There was some issues discovered that affect aero in the vehicle,” NASCAR Cup Series managing director Brad Moran said. “There really was no reason why there was some material that was somewhere it shouldn’t have been. And that does basically come down to a DQ.”
Moran said the parts in question were the front fascia — essentially the nose cone — and final decisions “should be sorted out by next week.”
Moran said the inspection “rules have tightened up” with the introduction this season of a new car. NASCAR’s newest version is essentially a kit car. Teams get all the same pieces from varying vendors and have detailed instructions regarding how to put it together.
“We don’t want to be here talking about this problem,” Moran said. “But the teams and the owners and everybody was well aware that this new car was going to be kept with some pretty tight tolerances. There’s some areas that all the teams are well aware that we can not go down the path that we had in the past with the other car.”
The failures marred what had been a banner day for JGR.
Hamlin had seemingly won for the third time this season and passed Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon for most wins at Pocono with seven. Hamlin swept two races at Pocono in his rookie season in 2006, and added wins in 2009, 2010, 2019 and 2020. Now, he remains tied with the four-time NASCAR champion.
Hamlin had plenty to handle from the start, when the pole sitter tagged the wall on the opening lap. He recovered — at 400 miles on the 2½-mile tri-oval there’s plenty of racing ahead — then had to watch Busch lead the majority of the race. Oh, then there was this thorny issue of settling a lingering score with Ross Chastain.
Chastain wrecked Hamlin two times in a month earlier this season — Hamlin counted two more times from last season — and was fed up with the aggressive driving of the watermelon farmer. Hamlin refused to give his rival an inch off a restart at Pocono and forced Chastain into the wall with 16 laps left in the race. Chastain slammed the wall and triggered a wreck that collected several drivers, including winless Kevin Harvick, who is fighting for a playoff spot.
“What did you want me to do?” Hamlin asked in the immediate aftermath. “What did you expect me to do?”
Chastain, who has two wins this season driving for Trackhouse Racing, sheepishly understood comeuppance was due.
“I think that’s something that’s been owed to me for a few months now,” Chastain…