It was going to happen eventually.
Four years ago, NASCAR at long last instituted a rule that cars which failed post-race inspection, even race winners, would be disqualified.
That meant the driver and team who crossed the finish line first would have their victorious bounty revoked. That included almost every point – stage and playoff – they earned during the course of the event. They’d be relegated to a last-place finish, almost as if they never showed up at the track.
But over the last four years, the hammer was never dropped (hey, I waited a year and a half, don’t judge me) on any Cup Series winners.
The closest we’ve come was Jimmie Johnson’s second-place finish in the 2020 Coca-Cola 600 being negated, an event that likely kept him out of the playoffs in his final NASCAR Cup season.
But it finally happened, this past weekend at Pocono Raceway.
Thanks to …. *check notes* … pieces of “vinyl” illegally placed on the front fascia of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota and Kyle Busch’s No. 18.
I had never heard the term “fascia” before Sunday (July 24). It may be the least motorsports-sounding term I’ve heard in recent memory.
Well, at least until Scott Miller, NASCAR’s VP of Competition, uttered the word “vinyl” Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
🗣️ "It was extra layers of vinyl that in effect, deviated the part from the approved CAD file."
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) July 25, 2022
Miller said NASCAR was “very surprised” when it removed the car’s wraps and found “extra layers of vinyl that, in effect, deviated the part from the approved CAD file.”
No, this wasn’t your parents’ favorite 12-inch Elvis record. According to a statement from Joe Gibbs Racing, it was a piece of “clear tape,” measuring two inches wide and 5½ inches long with a thickness of 0.012 inches, that had been placed “over each of the lower corners of the front fascia ahead of the left-front and right-front wheel openings.”
Whether it was .012 inches or three inches, a non-properly vetted part of the “build process” in the Joe Gibbs Racing garage resulted in the first disqualification of a Cup winner since 1960.
It also gave Chase Elliott, who didn’t lead a single circuit of the 160-lap race at Pocono Raceway, his series-leading fourth win of the year.
Not that NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is elated by the events that led to his win by default.
“I don’t really feel right celebrating someone else’s misfortune,” Elliott told reporters Monday morning. “It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of or something I’m going to boast about throughout the course of this situation.”
Elliott also said Hamlin could keep the trophy from Sunday if he wanted.
Though Hamlin might just put it on eBay.
Live on EBay. 1 tainted trophy and 1 used bottle of champagne pic.twitter.com/kfZn6C877o
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 26, 2022
Were the aerodynamic advantages of those pieces of vinyl (err, tape) the difference-maker in Hamlin being able to come back from bouncing off the wall on lap 1 and spinning on lap 11 to get what would have been his third win of the season?
We’ll likely never know.
But rules are rules, right?
In the first year of the Next Gen car, NASCAR let everyone know it meant business when it came to enforcing rules. That was made clear with the penalty against RFK Racing’s No. 6 team that currently has Brad Keselowski 28th in the points standings with five races left in the regular season.
If the “vinyl” was a simple error, JGR’s penalty will likely have teams checking their checklists at the shop even more as the playoffs near.
Intent aside, it’s entirely possible that come an elimination race in the playoffs – Sept. 17 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Oct. 9 at the Charlotte ROVAL 0r Oct. 30 at Martinsville – that the playoff points lost by Hamlin (five) and Busch (one point from winning stage two) could be a glaring difference between advancing or elimination.
Then, members of JGR can break out the musical kind of vinyl.
Might I suggest Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”?
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at email@example.com.