And all of that seems like only a subplot from Sunday’s bizarre race and its aftermath.
Of course, the fans who cascaded a chorus of boos down on Denny Hamlin following the race probably agree that karma delivered the popular Elliott to Victory Lane well after the matter seemed settled on the track.
NASCAR officials later said the decision to disqualify Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who finished 1-2 on the track, was the first such penalties since 1960. The post-race inspection revealed violations that improved the aero packages of the two JGR cars. JGR announced Monday that it would not appeal the penalties.
Both Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota and Busch’s No. 18 flunked post-race inspections, adding drama to a dramatic final stage during which Ross Chastain ended up in the wall after spending most of the day near the front of the pack at Pocono’s “Tricky Triangle.”
The crash was the latest chapter of a simmering summer rivalry between Hamlin and Chastain that has included wrecked race cars, contrition from Chastain, and promises of payback from Hamlin.
Following a restart with 18 laps remaining, Hamlin pushed Chastain’s No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet out of the race groove in Turn 1. Chastain, who had restarted outside of Hamlin on the first row, lost control, hit the wall, and ended up sliding through a sea of race cars and into the infield.
After the disqualifications of the two JGR drivers, Chastain ended up finishing 32nd.
It’s been a long, hot summer for Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain
Long before Hamlin and Chastain went door-to-door at Pocono, Chastain was admittedly busy making enemies among drivers in the Cup Series at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway outside of St. Louis.
Chastain drove into Hamlin’s rear bumper in the first half of the race. Hamlin went into the wall, and the incident went into his memory bank. A few weeks later, at Atlanta, Chastain and Hamlin connected again. This time, Chastain hit Hamlin in the left-rear quarter panel and spun him.
Hamlin said then in interviews that Chastain had exhausted his patience.
Given all that recent history, what happened at Pocono was no surprise, not even to Chastain. “If I would have raced smarter two months ago, I probably would have had plenty of room off Turn 1,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “I’ve realized that for the last month or two, and it’s just too late for that, so he paid it back, and (we) go on to Indy.”
Chase Elliott says Hamlin was ‘pretty nice’ to Chastain
When the dust settled Sunday evening, Elliott had won for the third time in his last five Cup races and had extended his points lead.
Regardless of Hamlin’s motives regarding Chastain on the late-race restart, Elliott said Hamlin was ‘pretty nice,’ despite the end result and obvious motive for payback.
“(Hamlin) did run (Chastain) up the track a little bit,” Elliott said in a streamed interview Monday. “But he still left him some room there on exit when all was said and done. I thought, all things considered, he was pretty kind about what went on there.”
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference