Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Pocono: Denny Hamlin Finally Makes Good on Idle Threats

What happened?

After a controversial incident involving Ross Chastain, polesitter Denny Hamlin held off teammate Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott to earn what would have been his third win of the season at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, July 24. However, both Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified after the two failed post-race inspection, and Elliott was promoted into the lead, which earned him his fourth victory of 2022. Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson officially rounded out the top-five finishers.

It’s the first time a NASCAR Cup Series race winner has been disqualified since post-race regulations were revamped in 2019. It is also the first time in the modern era a Cup Series driver has won a race without leading any laps.

How did it happen?

Varying pit strategies cycled leaders and shuffled the field throughout the day on the Tricky Triangle. During the final stage, a fast pit stop by Chastain’s race team cycled him in front of former race leader Kyle Busch. Hamlin made his way by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate as well for second place.

Chastain needed a green flag run to stay ahead for the remaining 20 laps in order to secure his third victory of the season, but he didn’t get the opportunity.

A crash from Ryan Blaney brought out a caution, and like that, the field was bunched up again.

Then everyone collectively realized who would be racing for the lead, and they all held their breath.

On the penultimate restart with 17 laps to go, Chastain restarted as the race leader alongside Hamlin. The duo had garnered a large amount of attention over the past month after numerous incidents between the two drivers had caused some friction between the two teams.

As a result, the two raced hard for the lead. Too hard.

The resulting caution allowed Hamlin to restart with the lead while teammate Kyle Busch accelerated alongside. Hamlin cleared Rowdy on the exit of turn 1 and stayed there for the remaining 14 laps on his way to what was almost his third win of 2022.

Hours after, however, it was announced that both Hamlin and Kyle Busch’s cars had failed post-race inspection and were disqualified. Elliott was promoted to first place and was awarded the win, his fourth of the year.

Who stood out?

By now, everybody in the NASCAR world and their respective mothers know about the Chastain and Hamlin feud, and on Sunday, those were the two drivers that truly stood out.

But we’ll get to those guys in a minute.

While Hamlin went on to almost win the race from the lead after an impressive recovery from spinning earlier in the 160-lap event, teammate Kyle Busch was the one who truly dominated.

After leading a race-high 63 laps and originally winning stage two, the Candyman had earned a highly respectable runner-up result until he was disqualified hours later.

Despite his relegation to a 36th-place result, it well may have still been a cherished confidence boost for the No. 18 team, as it was almost their first top 10 result since a second-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway a whopping six races ago.

To add more weight to the team’s success, Rowdy is also in the middle of a hotly contested contract negotiation with JGR, meaning every race result for the No. 18 – good and bad – is being monitored closely by the management of JGR, which certainly adds tension among the team.

That’s because of the unspoken possibility of Kyle Busch leaving the team he’s been so successful with since he began racing there in 2008. To add more drama, his likely replacement made his first Cup start on Sunday as well.

For a driver that didn’t know he was going to make his first start until the wee hours of Sunday morning, he ran pretty well too.

After Kurt Busch was not cleared by health officials to run Sunday’s race as a result of his crash during qualifying, up-and-coming JGR prospect Ty Gibbs filled the role of the driver of the No. 45 for 23XI Racing – firesuit and all.

Gibbs started in the rear of the field and ran a respectable first Cup race near mid pack. With no points on the line for either Kurt Busch or Gibbs, there was little pressure on the Cup Series’ newest rookie. With that in mind, the goal was to simply finish the race.

He did that and more. The 19-year-old was running within the top 15. He ended his day in 18th, with him eventually being officially awarded a 16th-place finish after the disqualifications of both Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

For the driver who’d never piloted a Next Gen car before Sunday afternoon, that’s not bad.

Who fell flat?

Blaney’s left rear.

With the playoff field closing and time running out until the post-season begins, any driver without a win will take any luck they can get to point into one of the two remaining spots.

Blaney had no such luck on Sunday.

What Blaney lacks in luck, he made up for in talent. The North Carolinian was able to keep his No. 12 Ford off the wall and limped it back around the 2.5-mile triangle and returned to pit road for service. There was no caution flag either, which meant Blaney lost even more time before returning to the racing surface.

Alas, the tough breaks kept coming.

With 23 laps to go, Blaney spun off of turn 3, which had been a troublesome place for many drivers during the weekend. Unlike his flat tire, however, there was no amount of car control that could prevent the No. 12’s head-on collision with the inside wall.

Blaney hit, and he hit hard.

The Team Penske crew left Pocono with their heads hung low, as they were credited with a 35th-place finish and now sit only 105 points above the cut line.

That may seem like a nice cushion, but with the playoff field only two new winners away from being full, one can never be too sure.

See also
Up to Speed: Will Team Penske Find Momentum Before the Playoffs?

What did this race prove?

There has been an argument floating around the NASCAR world that recently drivers have been all talk and no walk when it comes to making threats.

However, Hamlin put an end to that on Sunday and it’s about time somebody did.

For the last few years, the seasoned veterans of the sport have been in an uproar about the lack of respect being given by the younger generation of drivers making their way into the higher ranks of NASCAR. Hamlin was the most recent to make a case about some of the younger drivers being too aggressive after his latest run-ins with Chastain at both Gateway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The thing is, they kind of have a point.

Most recently, in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Noah Gragson caused a multi-car wreck in what seemed to be an emotional outburst against fellow driver Sage Karam at Road America and never really apologized for it.

In a more popular case, remember when Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr out of the way to win at Martinsville Speedway in 2018? Afterward, Truex said the famous line, “He may have won the battle, but he won’t win the damn war.” Do you remember what happened after that?

That’s right. Nothing. In fact, Logano did win the war when he won his only Cup Series championship.

How about what happened after Alex Bowman moved Hamlin at Martinsville last year which resulted in the famous, “He’s a hack” line?

Nothing.

So, as a counterargument, how can these young competitors take any threats seriously when other drivers don’t follow up on them?

The reason why younger drivers are being too aggressive is that they’ve only raced other younger drivers in the lower-tier series. It’s up to the older, more mature Cup drivers like Hamlin and Truex to show them the same respect they’ve been given.

Hamlin finally did that on Sunday when he collided with Chastain. Albeit it was more of an aggressive racing line rather than an intentional wreck.

Hamlin said at Atlanta that he had “reached his peak” when it came to being raced too aggressively, but many wrote it off as hot air. Instead, Hamlin actually backed up his words.

Don’t get this twisted, this is not a victory for Hamlin, but for NASCAR fans as a whole. Maybe now there will be a pattern of threats not being simply idle ones but promises.

Now the question is are the two even?

Well, it is if Hamlin is “given the respect back from those guys.”

Maybe this time everyone will actually take him seriously.

Better than last time?

While the Next Gen car is new, Pocono still seems to be the same.

In 2021 there were 10 leaders among 13 lead changes before Kyle Busch went on to win what was the second race of a double header weekend at the Tricky Triangle.

Despite it being a longer race, however, the 2022 edition saw very similar stats, with 10 leaders and 15 lead changes.

As explained in a few editions of Thinkin’ Out Loud, there are a few ways to analyze why a track performs the way it does. In Pocono’s case, it appears to be something similar to what happened at Road America.

The track is just so darn big.

With nine cautions in the 400-mile event, the most at the track since 2016, we saw quite a few restarts. That’s a great thing because the most exciting moments of the race almost all happened on the exit of turn 1 after a restart. That includes the Hamlin-Chastain kerfuffle.

Not to mention, the sight of seeing cars fanning out to almost seven-wide on those restarts on the frontsretch is something that isn’t replicated anywhere else.

Alas, once the field finished that first initial lap after racing resumption, those exciting three and sometimes four-wide battles became one long, spread out, single-car train.

However, the thing about Pocono is that it isn’t the on-track product that is the venue’s saving grace, it’s the pit strategy. Much like Road America, the long-distance circuit allows drivers to pit without the threat of going a lap down, giving crew chiefs some liberty in deciding when the best time is to pit without worrying about a caution ruining their day.

With a sold-out infield and a good-looking crowd to boot, Pocono still displays that it has loyal fans and a deep-rooted racing culture behind it – kind of like, well, Road America – and not trying to capture and keep that in the sport nowadays is foolish. Get the hint?

So, yes, Pocono is still Pocono, but that’s not really a bad thing.

Paint scheme of the race

NASCAR and WWE have done plenty of cross-marketing campaigns in the past, but when was the last time we saw an event being featured on a Cup Series car?

Corey LaJoie‘s No. 7 featured the colors for an upcoming WWE event in a collaboration between the two entities.

But it wasn’t really the paint scheme itself that makes this paint scheme great, it was the flare that came with it.

The memes that came from it were pretty great too.

What’s next?

NASCAR makes its annual visit to the Brickyard.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the series’ second ever visit to the venue’s road course. Cup qualifying for the Verizon 200 begins on Saturday, July 30 at 10:35 a.m. ET with the 82-lap main event being televised live on NBC on Sunday, July 31 at 2:30 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Echo

Hamlin may think he’s even, but I’ll bet given the same situation but with Chastain underneath, Hamlin goes in the wall. Chastain won’t back down rest assured, he’ll just be smarter.

Bill B

I was actually surprised that Chastain didn’t take the inside lane on the restart because, by taking the outside, he really made it easy for a driver he knew wanted payback to do just that.

Last edited 20 days ago by Bill B
Echo

Did you read the size of the piece that caused the infraction ! 2″x 5 1/2″
And as thick as Scotch tape. Wow, now that is picky. And they didn’t appeal ???

Bill B

Yes I saw that last night. It does sound picky but I remember hearing the FOX guys talk about it earlier in the season. Putting tape or anything else on the front of the car is not allowed. You can bet the teams knew what they were doing too. The fact that it was clear tape and hidden under the wrapping kind of proves that.

CHIEF

As long as nascar continues to operate under the chevrolet/hendrick umbrella, Fords/Toyotas don’t stand a chance – they should get out of nascar.

Bill B

So your theory is that Ford and Toyota are run by idiots?
They’d have to be if they kept spending huge amounts of money if it’s all fixed, wouldn’t they?

Kevin in SoCal

Wait, I’ve heard fans say that NASCAR is taking bribes from Toyota. Which is it?

CHIEF

Look at the 2022 race results and call the playing field even !

Bill B

Hmmm, no appeal. Must be guilty.

Ken

Since everything is about payback these days, does Harvick owe Hamlin one? Hamlin caused Chastain to wreck and then spin into the path of Harvick who had nowhere to go which ruined Harvick’s chance at a much needed good day. Not saying Hamlin shouldn’t have taken care of business with Chastain but it seems that wrecking someone at the front of a bunched up field is a bad idea and is bound to hurt innocent drivers.

Bill B

First haw haw for Hamlin being disqualified. Waking up this morning and hearing that made my day. In fact four of the drivers I like the least all had issues, both Busch’s, Hamlin and Harvick, a great weekend at the track for me.

As for the Hamlin retribution, I have to give him credit for doing it right. It was obvious but not blatant and it was done going for the win (had the car not been illegal). The only thing he did wrong was to do it when the cars were all bunched up on a restart. He totally dismissed the possibility of collateral damage to cars that were just trying to race.

I was impressed with the crowd at the track. Seemed almost like old times. Overall a decent race because of all the cautions, most of which were from cars just spinning out on their own.

On another note, has anyone else had their browser screen get hi-jacked to a completely different screen (usually some kind of advertisement for anti-virus software) while visiting this site? I have had this happen more than a few times.

Bobby

Yes, this frontstretch website ,whether viewing it direct or through Jayski, oftentimes causes serious havoc on my desktop………frozen screens, bizarre pop-ups, Spanish language pop-up ads, etc.

Bill B

Thanks. At least now I know it’s not just me. I don’t seem to have the issue at other websites I visit regularly.

DoninAjax

Try using a free ad blocker and see what happens. I use Firefox and the site seems to load slower because the ads are being blocked.

DoninAjax

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t think Hamlin did anything wrong with Chastain. I think he teased him into staying outside of his right rear until Chastain ran out of room. Chastain had the chance to back off and get behind Hamlin but he didn’t and got into the wall.

Why does it seem that every time a Reverend Joe car caresses the wall with the right rear it seems to get faster?

Echo

I agree, the Gibbs cars get faster after the right rear rubs the wall a little. I also think Denny let Chastain take himself out. Bill is right, Chastain should have taken the bottom.

DoninAjax

Whenever a Toyota scrapes a wall I’m thinking it is on purpose. It must affect the aerodynamics of the car. It’s an extreme case but Truex has had the front of the car covered in tape and is still one of the fastest cars.

johndawgchapman

However, you see this ongoing feud between Hamlin & Chastain. If Hamlin doesn’t accept that they’re even now, it could well continue into the playoffs. I know both will race each other hard. But that’s what they’re paid to do.
Sure, he can take Chastain out, but for someone with limited chances to win a championship that wouldn’t be in his best interest.

WJW Motorsports

A pox on all those loyal racing fans supporting a long-running independently owned track and the sport they used to know. What we really need instead is a street race through Philly.

Racer919

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