NASCAR warned its teams it was serious about stamping out a culture of cheating that stretched back to its roots and let illegitimate race winners often walk away unscathed with nothing worse than a fine or a few docked points for the team.
But the drivers always kept the trophy and added the number in the win column.
No more and not again. NASCAR carried out its stiffest punishment against a race winner in more than 60 years when it stripped Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin of his Pocono Raceway victory and teammate Kyle Busch of his runner-up finish.
JGR didn’t bother to fight the penalties, declining Monday to take the matter to an appeals panel.
The JGR Toyotas flunked postrace inspection Sunday night when NASCAR found issues in both cars that affected the aerodynamics. Miller said Monday on Sirius XM the exact issue was “extra layers of vinyl” found under the wrap of the car — more commonly known as the paint scheme — that essentially modified that area of the lower nose on each car.
Joe Gibbs Racing apologized in a statement and said changes were underway to make sure it did not happen again.
Hamlin was the first Cup winner to be disqualified since April 17, 1960, when Emanuel Zervakis’ victory at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina was thrown out because of an oversized fuel tank. Hamlin was stripped of his third Cup Series win of the season and a track-record seventh at Pocono.
Chase Elliott finished in third place and was awarded the win without the Hendrick Motorsports driver ever leading a lap in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
NASCAR introduced a new car this year that spent years in development and was designed to cut costs and essentially attempt to level the playing field. The 2022 version is pretty much a kit car; teams get all the same pieces from varying vendors and have detailed instructions regarding how to put it together.
And many of the pieces that fit under the car, items that used to cost hundreds of thousands annually to develop, are now spec parts that are essentially bought off store shelves. They’re the same for everyone and not allowed to be manipulated.
Four years after NASCAR first threatened to tighten up inspection rules, it doubled down this season on going after potential rule benders.
NASCAR’s three manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — and their race teams never stop trying to find that extra edge that can give them more speed. They look for gray areas and wiggle room that give them an advantage yet keep them under the inspection radar.
Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson said the manufacturer stood by NASCAR’s decision.
NASCAR’s inspection team usually tears down the first- and second-place cars at the track, and third- through fifth-place cars (such as Elliott’s Chevrolet) are also inspected. All cars go through a prerace inspection and multiple failures can result in the car losing its starting spot and getting sent to the back of the field.
NASCAR said the Toyota infractions were not caught in the prerace inspection because the wrap was not removed from the cars until after the race.