Denny Hamlin’s Toughest Task After the DQ Wasn’t Handing Back the Money or the Trophy

Denny Hamlin could have set a NASCAR record by being the subject of the most stories during a race week without coming away with a victory. All it took was “winning” at Pocono last weekend and then losing via disqualification.

The turn of events cost the driver of the No. 11 Toyota race points, prize money, and the trophy. But Hamlin says that wasn’t the toughest part of the week. That took place on the way home after the NASCAR Cup Series race.

Denny Hamlin’s disqualification was a rare, jolting development

Denny Hamlin signs autographs prior to the NASCAR Cup Series M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Denny Hamlin signs autographs prior to the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Every aspect of the disqualification at Pocono was noteworthy, beginning with the fact that no NASCAR Cup Series winner had been stripped of his victory for more than six decades.

The numbers for both Denny Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch were taken down from atop the pylon, and the situation was even more unusual because the disqualification stemmed from a seemingly innocuous alteration to the cars’ front panels.

Under the zero-tolerance rules established by NASCAR before the season, even subtle changes to vendor-supplied parts for the Next Gen car are impermissible. Brad Keselowski learned that early in the season and paid the price with a fine and huge points penalty.

Denny Hamlin says his toughest task after the DQ was telling his kids

The aftermath of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway included all the usual pageantry, including the celebratory burnout, trackside interview, and the trophy presentation. One of the enduring images was that of Denny Hamlin’s 9-year-old daughter Taylor waving the checkered flag and riding to Victory Lane with her father.

Unfortunately for Hamlin, there is one more tradition after races: The thorough inspection of the cars driven by the top two finishers. That’s where officials turned up the violations that led to the disqualifications.

That meant Hamlin had to surrender the victory and the points associated with it, the first-place check, the trophy, and the checkered flag. Some of that was easier said than done. Hamlin and his family were already on their way home with the trophy and flag when NASCAR announced the disqualification.

“The toughest part was explaining to my kids on the car ride to the airport how we didn’t win because what they just saw was that we won,” Hamlin told NBC Sports before Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It took a long conversation with them. But NASCAR ultimately made the decision that we’ve got to live by.”

It made for a crazy week, shortened by the Joe Gibbs Racing decision not to appeal the ruling. Still, there was the matter of getting the trophy into third place-finisher Chase Elliott’s hands.

Hamlin knew he’d be seeing Elliott in Indianapolis, but he told his fellow competitor he was going to milk the whole episode for some fun during the week. That included claiming he would be putting the trophy and a “used bottle of Champagne” up for sale on eBay.

Ultimately, Elliott ended up with the trophy but not the checkered flag.

“I told Chase that if you want the checkered flag, you’re going to have to fight Taylor for it,” Hamlin said. “He conceded the loss on that.”

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RELATED: Denny Hamlin’s First-to-Worst Day at Pocono in the NASCAR Cup Series, Chronicled by Twitter