NASCAR Cup teams still stunned by Pocono disqualifications
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Just sitting by the Denny Hamlin hauler was a nose with some vinyl tape (commonly known as helicopter tape) strategically placed in the corners by where it would attach to the splitter.
It was the piece that cost Hamlin the win at Pocono, according to JGR. NASCAR wouldn't go look to verify and probably wasn't all that pleased that JGR was parading its illegal nose for everyone to see.
JGR's motivation could have come from several areas:
- It wanted to show just how little was done to the nose of the car, trying to make a point that even it was illegal, it wasn't a disqualification-worthy offense.
- It wanted to show other teams what JGR did so they don't make the same mistake.
- It wanted to show that it was being transparent on how it violated the rules.
There's no doubt that having those pieces of tape helped drag or downforce in the car — that they were put on the car to help with the handling. But even opposing crew chiefs indicated it probably wasn't the main difference why Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 1-2 before their disqualifications.
So where does NASCAR go from here? NASCAR competition officials declined comment during the Indianapolis Motor Speedway weekend to discuss penalties and philosophy.
NASCAR officials don't need to speak to get the message across that they are willing to go as far as necessary to enforce what they feel are violations of the rules.
"We have certainly seen way worse get by," said Hamlin crew chief Chris Gabehart. "I did not expect a DQ. ... For something that small to escalate to that level, there's no way that everybody in the garage is not terrified."
Gabehart swears he didn't even know JGR was putting that tape on the cars, something that seems hard to believe.
"I am embarrassed to say, but it's factually so, I, nor none of my counterparts [as crew chiefs], knew it was on the car," he said. "This is a sport that takes thousands of man-hours a week by hundreds of people to put a car on the track any given Sunday.
"And if I limit us to the point in which I need to know everything about every nut and bolt, [our] 11 team will no longer be the winningest team in the last three-and-a-half years."
With the new Next Gen car, NASCAR has said it would be diligent when it comes to rule enforcement because the parts and pieces come from single-sourced vendors and cannot be altered.
That resulted in the first Cup winner disqualification in 62 years as well as 100-point penalties (plus 10 playoff points) to Brad Keselowski earlier this year and Michael McDowell in just the past week.
"It's excessive for what it was," Busch said. "But I get the process of this car and making sure the example is out there, and they did the same thing with Brad's team and [McDowell's] team."
Hamlin, who also owns two Cup cars, gave an "is what it is" type of answer. He said he wasn't up in arms over the violations and JGR shouldn't have done it if it broke the rules. He just knows that it wasn't a huge deal when it came to determining the finishing order.
"I thought we had one of those Richard Petty big engines in the car or something, but not this time," Hamlin said. "It was a piece of tape, but they're pretty [insistent] that that's the way that they want it starting with this new car.
"I just hope that it's consistent for everybody no matter who wins a race."
Hamlin said it was his understanding that the JGR violation was for something added to a stock part, and that the Keselowski and McDowell penalties were for modifying a stock part, which meant more points and suspensions (they couldn't be disqualified because their violations were found a couple of days later at NASCAR's tech center).
Other teams certainly took notice, although drivers said they don't get into the details of what their teams are doing to push the gray areas of the rule book in hopes of leniency in the tech bay or NASCAR admitting it didn't violate the rules — and then create a new rule to make sure it would in the future.
Owners certainly don't want to be penalized. And they're not going to throw stones.
"I was just glad it wasn't us," said car owner Roger Penske, who also owns the IndyCar Series. "We need to have a level playing field that we're all racing on. It's the same for all the teams and all the drivers.
"I guess I take my hat off to NASCAR, but they've got to be sure it's level across the entire organization and industry. But we're glad we're not involved in something like that. We've had our time, too. So we have to sit back in the back row on this one."
JGR said it will change procedures to try to avoid any issues in the future. The fact that the team did not appeal the penalty shows it recognizes that it was in the wrong.
But that doesn't mean JGR engineers won't spend as many hours going over wind tunnel data and running simulations to try to get better.
"It's all of the details collectively that makes you better than everybody else," Gabehart said. "So if you asked me did that one detail make the difference? The answer is, ‘No.'
"But it's what that one detail represents that absolutely does make the difference between winning and losing."
Thinking out loud
When NASCAR issued Ross Chastain a 30-second penalty at the end of the race, it was the obvious call.
The rule can be murky, but there's no way a driver should be allowed to cut the course and advance his position.
Chastain was running fourth on the final restart and after using an access road to avoid Turn 1, came out second, side-by-side with Tyler Reddick.
You can't pass two drivers by cutting the course. That makes no sense. NASCAR issued a 30-second penalty.
NASCAR's rules for the race was that if you missed Turn 1, it would be a stop-and-go penalty. But that's a judgment call because drivers can be pushed out of the racing groove.
Even if Chastain could argue he was forced out (he said he was never going to make the turn), he certainly improved his position, and there's no way NASCAR could let that happen.
NASCAR would probably be better off to have a specific rule for Turn 1 next year.
Stat of the day
They said it
"All people do at the end of these things — just dive in there and wreck you. I don't know who shoved who, and I don't care." — Ryan Blaney on the IMS finish
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!