Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chase Elliott was declared the winner after Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Denny Hamlin and No. 18 Kyle Busch were disqualified due to an issue with the front facia, ripping away a JGR 1-2 finish in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Hamlin almost added a few chapters to the record books, nearly winning an all-time leading seventh career race at Pocono Raceway which would have surpassed Jeff Gordon for most wins at the “Tricky Triangle.”
A win would have also given Hamlin 49 career Cup Series victories, tying Tony Stewart for 15th on the all-time win list.
Instead, Elliott got his fourth win of the season.
Hamlin’s run was not without controversy as his saga with Trackhouse Racing No. 1 Ross Chastain continued. The two had been driving in the top two spots for a while before a restart with less than 20 laps to go.
Chastain took the outside at the choose cone, letting Hamlin take the inside and running him up the track off Turn 1. Chastain hit the wall and spun down the track, hitting Stewart Haas Racing No. 4 Kevin Harvick and Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Christopher Bell.
“What did you want me to do?” Hamlin said. “What did you expect me to do? We just ran out of racetrack.”
The two have been at each other’s throats for much of this season, most notably at World Wide Technology Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway where Chastain took Hamlin out both times.
“I’ve been owed that and probably some more for a few months now,” Chastain said after being released at the infield care center.”
Chastain was unable to finish the race and came away with a 32nd-place finish.
Hamlin had a whirlwind of a day starting from the very beginning on pole and ending with a 35th-place finish after failing the post-race inspection. On the very first turn, Hamlin ran wide and hit the wall, sending him back to fourth.
“I’m sure I killed the car,” Hamlin said over the radio after the hit.
The No. 11 team said the car looked fine and didn’t have any significant damage.
Practice and qualifying previewed the chaos that Turn 3 brought during the race. The final turn of the “Tricky Triangle” reared its ugly head on Lap 7 when Team Penske No. 2 Austin Cindric spun and hit the inside wall.
Cindric broke his left rear toe link on the hit and had to be towed around the track to pit road, tearing up the lower part of his car.
Cindric had to limp his car around the track for the rest of the day, landing him a 31st place finish while being 6 laps down.
Stage 1 proved that teams were willing to go off-cycle with the rest of the field to make something happen. Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Austin Dillon made a 4-tire stop with nine laps to go in the first stage in hopes of helping his track position.
Most teams tried to move more toward an “off-cycle” pit strategy as a way to eliminate a pit stop. That early decision from the No. 3 team helped Dillon to a respectable 10th-place finish.
Differing pit strategies were hit or miss for many teams. Team Penske No. 22 Joey Logano attempted a similar short-pit strategy but wasn’t able to make much noise with it, coming in 20th.
Stage 1 concluded early thanks to a Turn 3 spin from Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Aric Almirola. About 10 cars came to pit road before the spin, giving them the upper hand for Stage 2. Almirola’s team thought better of trying to get around the whole track on flat tires, so instead Almirola entered pit road through the exit and did his pit stop backward.
Almirola received a commitment line penalty for entering through the exit, but it was a sacrifice the team was willing to make if it meant maintaining the car. He finished 13th.
Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Kyle Larson used Toyota’s early issues to his advantage by taking the lead on Lap 12 when Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Kyle Busch ran wide on the first turn of the restart.
The defending champion held on to the lead when Almirola spun, giving him his third stage win of the season.
Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Harrison Burton led the field to start Stage 2 since he pitted right before the end of the first stage, but he quickly lost it before Spire Motorsports No. 77 Josh Bilicki crashed hard into Turn 1 to end his race.
Hamlin’s mid-race woes continued following Bilicki’s wreck. The eventual race-winner complained about the car being wobbly before spinning at the tunnel turn (Turn 2).
The day for Spire Motorsports got worse just nine laps after Bilicki’s day ended. Spire Motorsports No. 7 Corey LaJoie crashed on Lap 49.
Green flag stops were a point of emphasis at Pocono after the handful of cautions early in Stage 2. Logano, on his alternate strategy, began the green flag stops on Lap 56. The lead changed hands from multiple drivers in the span of the stops. Team Penske No. 12 Ryan Blaney attempted to stay out as long as he could before being forced to come in on Lap 82 as his Ford Mustang began to sputter on fuel.
A solo spin from PettyGMS Racing No. 42 Ty Dillon paved the way for a mad dash to the end of Stage 2 with Busch utilizing his No. 1 pit stall to gain four spots on pit road and use his fresh tires to pass 23XI Racing No. 23 Bubba Wallace on the ensuing restart.
Busch came around to win his second stage of the season at the time before being disqualified. Chastain ends up winning Stage 2.
Tires became an issue at the start of the final stage where Blaney blew a tire running in fifth and had to bring his car back to pit road without a caution.
Blaney also had a hard wreck with 23 laps to go that took him out of the race.
Green flag stops looked to be the deciding factor in a long-run race about halfway through the final stage.
Busch pitted from the lead on Lap 123, giving the lead to Chastain who pitted the following lap to not lose valuable time to Busch on old tires.
The No. 1 team pit crew gave Chastain a three-second faster stop than Busch, sending him in front of the two-time Cup Series Champion coming out of the pits. Chastain became the lead driver among cars that could make it the rest of the way on fuel.
Busch originally finished second behind his teammate Hamlin before the disqualification, just like he did at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway back on Memorial Day Weekend.
“We were trending loose,” Busch said. “We snugged it up a little bit and over jumped it too far and was just way tight that whole last run.”
Busch was going to be one spot away from winning his primary sponsor’s name-sake race when that same sponsor will be leaving him after this year. Busch said before the race that he thinks about it a lot but can “flip the switch” to focus on racing the moment he puts on his helmet.
Toyota saw a big shift regarding Kyle Busch’s older brother Kurt Busch. The regular driver of the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing, Kurth Busch was ruled out of the race earlier in the morning due to concussion-like symptoms from a wreck in qualifying the day prior.
The team called upon full-time Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs to fill in for Busch. Since Gibbs had zero behind-the-wheel experience in a next-gen car, the goal for him was to keep the car clean and learn as much as he can.
He did that and more as he kept the car clear of any incidents and moved up the finishing order as others wrecked, landing him a 16th-place finish in his Cup Series debut.
“We had a fast McDonald’s Toyota Camry TRD,” Gibbs said. “I had a great time. Michael [Jordan] if you’re watching I want to say thank you and it was a big pleasure to wear this [Jumpman logo] on my shoulder and on my shoes.”
Hamlin’s win and disqualification perfectly encompassed the up-and-down season he has had. Instead of joining Chase Elliott as the second three-time winner this season, Elliott wins his fourth race of the season before anyone has more than two.
Joe Gibbs Racing will have the opportunity to appeal the disqualifications if it chooses to, a process that would be expedited over the next week.
Hamlin would have moved up to 15th in the points standings had his win stood, instead he ended the race in 21st.
Elliott finished in the top two for the fifth consecutive race, extending his regular season points lead over Chastain and Blaney who both had late-race wrecks. Elliott is 105 points ahead of Chastain for the lead with Blaney behind another six points.
Blaney remains 106 points above the cutline, one point more than after last week’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Martin Truex Jr. remains in the final playoff spot, sitting 84 points above Harvick.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season continues next week with five races remaining in the regular season with the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on Sunday, July 31 at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The race can be watched on NBC as well as the NBC Sports App and can be listened to on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
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