When Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over till it’s over,” he likely did not mean Chase Elliott winning Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono in unusual fashion, particularly with the post-race inspection process.
The post-race statistics will show 15 lead changes among 10 different drivers for the 21st race of the NASCAR Cup Series season. In fact, it will illustrate the dominant performances by Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, the race’s two strongest factors. Hamlin and Busch led a combined 84 of the 160 laps at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
However, Hamlin and Busch, the race’s initial top two finishers, were disqualified following post-race inspection which revealed some concerns with their cars’ aerodynamics.
“Unfortunately, we were doing our post-race inspections, which we do. There was some issues discovered that affect aero of the vehicle,” said Brad Moran, the managing director for the NASCAR Cup Series. “The part was the front fascia. 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.
“It is a penalty, both for the 11 of Denny Hamlin and the 18 of Kyle Busch have been DQed. Their vehicles are being loaded in the NASCAR hauler. They’re going to go back to the R&D Center.”
While Moran provided some information regarding the disqualifications of Hamlin and Busch, no further infractions were assessed as of press time.
“No, not from what we’ve seen at this point,” he said. “We saw enough that the DQ was warranted, and we are bringing the vehicles back for further evaluation, so we will look much closer at both vehicles. But as of right now, no, we are hopefully not going to find anything else, but we are going to inspect them further when we get them back to the R&D Center.”
Hamlin, who celebrated what would have been his third win of 2022, tweeted his thoughts not longer after the disqualifications were announced.
Yeah, good luck getting that back. https://t.co/f1X8vISlzS
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 25, 2022
Meanwhile, Elliott tallies his fourth win of 2022 and third in the past five races. Unlike his victories at Dover, Nashville, Road America and Atlanta, the 2020 Cup champion won without leading any laps, a unique footnote to an unusual but otherwise competitive event.
Prior to the post-race disqualifications, the early favorites were Kyle Larson, winner of stage 1, and Kyle Busch, the stage 2 victor. Ross Chastain emerged as a late race contender before a tangle with Hamlin in turn 1 on lap 145.
Chastain observed how the late race incident was attributed to some prior run-ins with Hamlin.
“It was something that has been owed to me for a few months now,” he remarked. “I’m proud of the effort by Trackhouse Racing and everybody on this No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevy. It’s week in and week out that we keep bringing fast Chevy Camaros. Everybody at Advent Health, Moose Fraternity and Jockey – to keep bringing bullets like that and keep bringing fast cars is a testament to everybody at Chevrolet.”
Hamlin and Chastain’s incident in turn 1 also collected Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion who’s outside of the Playoff standings. The turn 1 crash derailed a promising top 10 finish into a 27th place result, the last lead lap finisher.
Prior to essentially inheriting the victory, Elliott accepted a best in class podium finish.
“Definitely a bit of a battle for our NAPA team today,” Elliott shared. “I’m pretty happy with third really after that. I didn’t think we were all that good really through the mid portion of the race, and I was struggling in traffic some to get back up through there. Yeah, had some restarts and stuff go our way there towards the end, and able to get some spots back, which is nice.”
Perhaps Elliott had the most to gain even without considering Sunday’s post-race inspection. With a sizable margin over his competitors, it’s safe to say that the Dawsonville, Georgia native showcased his tenacity, particularly during restarts.
“I don’t know that I learned much of anything today,” he offered. “Just got fortunate there with the way the restarts and stuff went. Yeah, I think we have room for improvement, and we’ll go on to next week and try to build and be a little better.”
Despite placing inside the podium finishing positions, Elliott cautioned how his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro team have work to do ahead of Indianapolis and the Playoffs.
“Yeah, I thought we were better. I think we were,” he observed. “Our improvement was better at Loudon than here today. So yeah, so certainly room to improve.”
Little would Elliott realize that he would have room to improve in a matter of speaking. With 11 Playoff points separating Elliott and Chastain, perhaps the Georgian may be breathing a bit easier ahead of the Verizon 200 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Grand Prix circuit (Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
Top 10 Stage 1 Finishers
Top 10 Stage 2 Finishers
M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Top 10 Finishers
Elliott-Reddick-Suárez-Bell-Larson/McDowell-Truex Jr.-Wallace-Jones-Austin Dillon
This recap will be updated with potential, further reactions following Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway. Also, Nathan Solomon contributed to this recap from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.