It was a busy weekend of penalties in the NASCAR world. On Saturday, Petty GMS Racing received a pair of L-1 penalties to both cars. The No. 42 Chevrolet of Ty Dillon and the No. 43 Chevrolet of Erik Jones were both found to be in violation of Sections 14.6.5.E of the NASCAR Rule Book (rocker box assemblies).
As a result, both teams lost 35 owner and 35 driver points and both crew chiefs (Jerame Donley and David Elenz) were ejected.
A day later, Joe Gibbs Racing had 2 cars disqualified despite a top two finish for each in Sunday’s race. It was revealed in the post race inspection that the fascia on the front end of Denny Hamlin’s race winning No. 11 Toyota was altered. Same with 2nd place finisher Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota.
It’s the first time since 1960 that NASCAR took away a win as for the 4th straight week now, we’re discussing penalties or the lack thereof.
3 weeks ago it was Noah Gragson’s penalty from Road America. 2 weeks ago it was a no call on Christopher Bell’s lost wheel on pit road in Atlanta. Last week we’re discussing another lost wheel on pit road, but this time resulting in a penalty.
Last Wednesday, NASCAR ruled that the No. 2 Ford team from Team Penske would be penalized from their lost wheel during the Ambetter 301 from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Austin Cindric hit pit lane after the conclusion of the second stage. Once he left his stall, the left front wheel came off and rolled down the rest of pit lane.
The infraction fell under the NASCAR Rule Book Sections 184.108.40.206 and 10.5.2.6 (loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle). As a result, competition officials issued four-race suspensions to crew chief Jeremy Bullins, plus crew members Curtis Thompson (front tire changer) and Patrick Gray (jack).
That got people talking. Why is this any different than Bell’s?
NASCAR’s vice president of officiating and technical inspection, Elton Sawyer, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday that the No. 2 team’s infraction came under different circumstances.
“The amount of speed that the tire is carrying down pit road, did it impede another competitor — all of those things go into the decision-making and obviously the distance that one tire traveled on pit road, the 20 car versus what the 2 car was significantly different,” Sawyer told SiriusXM. “So although the optics are a loss of wheel on pit road, the two scenarios are quite a bit different. We’ll continue to dissect that and look at it. Again, we don’t want to over-officiate, but tires coming off is a huge safety concern and we just have to make sure that we’re handling that correctly. So we’ll continue to have dialogue internally … but they are two different situations for sure.”
Granted, I get his notion but I don’t like the gray area here. If one is a penalty then the other should be or vice versa.
Now, the watch comes on JGR and any future ramifications over their DQs. NASCAR came down hard on Brad Keselowski this past spring so some are wondering despite NASCAR saying that there likely won’t be any further punishment, if there indeed is.
JGR decided to not appeal the process and will take what NASCAR levied on Sunday. How do they respond this weekend at Indy on a type of track (road course) that they’ve largely struggled on this season?
Chastain vs. Hamlin Feud
Denny Hamlin got payback on Ross Chastain late in Sunday’s race at Pocono. Hamlin and Chastain shared the front row on the Lap 143 restart and the duo drag raced for the lead through the first corner. Hamlin didn’t give Chastain any room and squeezed him into the outside SAFER barrier resulting in Chastain spinning in his No. 1 Chevrolet and taking out Kevin Harvick in the process.
“I mean, what did you want me to do?” Hamlin quipped on the incident. “What did you expect me to do? We got position on him, and he just ran out of race track.
“We drove in deep and he drove in deep, and I’m not even sure if we made contact; maybe we did. He ended up running out of racetrack. He knew I was going to race him hard. What else do you want me to do after the wrecks that I’ve had? That’s what we did today.”
Chastain expected that contact could be coming.
“I think we all knew what was owed to me, and today he cashed that in,” Chastain said. “I know that my actions bear consequences. So, for a month or two, I knew I stepped over the line and wrecked him, so he decided to return it today.
“I had that one coming, and if I would have raced smarter two months ago, I probably would have had plenty of room off Turn 1. I’ve realized that for the last month or two, and it’s just too late for that so ’ll go onto Indy.”
Hamlin didn’t hide behind the fact that payback was cashed in.
“You just race people the way you get raced in the end,” Hamlin said. “It was egged on by his car owner [Justin Marks] on Twitter and said he can’t wait, so it just fired me up over those incidents. We’re just going to continue to race hard, and I’m going to race him the same way.”
Kurt Busch’s Concussion Like Symptoms, Ramifications From This
Kurt Busch slapped the Turn 3 wall in qualifying on Saturday. On Sunday morning, it was reveled that Busch wouldn’t race in Sunday’s event at Pocono due to concussion like symptoms.
“This morning, Kurt Busch met with doctors in the infield care center for further evaluation following his accident during yesterday’s qualifying session,” a statement from NASCAR read. “Following the evaluation, Kurt Busch has not been cleared to race in today’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway.”
As a result, Ty Gibbs made his Cup debut in the No. 45 Toyota to where he finished an impressive 16th place. It was the first time he had even been behind the wheel of a Cup car and he certainly turned some heads with a solid outing.
Now the focus turns to Busch’s health and also his future.
NASCAR has granted Busch a medical waiver for the playoffs.
“NASCAR has done a great job of putting the drivers’ health before competition and I respect the decision they have made,” Busch said. “I’m still having concussion-like symptoms from yesterday’s impact in qualifying.
“I will continue to follow the medical team’s recommendations and appreciate everyone’s support. Thanks to 23XI and their effects, let’s get back on track in Indy.”
As a result of missing the race, Busch falls to 17th in points. Where this is big, with 14 different race winners already this season, if we get 3 more in the next 5 weeks, then someone that has already won will be bumped out. So that means you don’t want to be the last driver in points among those with race wins.
Right now, Busch is the last driver with a single victory. Denny Hamlin has 2 races wins and while he sits below Busch in points (21st) his 2 wins put him in ahead of Busch.
Busch is 2 points behind Chase Briscoe for the 2nd to last spot in points among race winners. Austin Cindric leads Busch by 10.
Another layer to this is Busch’s future. While I don’t think this is obviously is a career ender, head injuries are nothing to dismiss. Busch’s contract runs through 2023 and he hinted last week that he may call it quits after next season.
Plus, with Gibbs filling in nicely, does he get the nod in the No. 18 Toyota for 2023 should Busch’s brother, Kyle Busch, not return.
It’s no secret this is hitting danger levels now. All side have admitted frustrations that a deal isn’t done and Busch has admitted to now talking to other teams.
The fact that next week is August and no sponsor is in place for 2023 is concerning for Busch, Toyota and JGR in the fact Busch isn’t wanting to take a massive pay cut and without a sponsor, JGR can’t pay Busch to retain him.
If Busch isn’t back, then the most obvious replacement is Gibbs even though the organization thinks he needs another full season in the Xfinity Series.
Chase Elliott led 0 laps on Sunday but was scored as the winner. It was his 5th straight top 2 result on the season including 3 of which being wins. 2 of the 3 were handed to him from JGR mistakes, 1 a costly pit call in Nashville and the other the 2 DQ’s from Pocono. However, if Elliott had his way, he’d have 5 straight wins instead.
He felt he could have done a better job in the end at Road America to keep Tyler Reddick behind him. Elliott felt the same way leaving Loudon in thinking he didn’t good a good enough job of holding Christopher Bell off.
Still, he’s the hottest driver in the series now in a year where no one has gotten hot yet heading to a road course to where he’s been at his best over the years at.
Truck Series Playoffs Set
The Truck Series wrapped up their regular season on Saturday as the 10 driver playoff field is now set. Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemechek, Stewart Friesen, Christian Eckes, Ty Majeski, Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton will race for a championship with the postseason beginning this Friday night at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Chandler Smith scored his 2nd win of the season in Pocono as he enters the playoffs with 7 top 8 finishes over the last 9 regular season races. Zane Smith has to be the favorite though after scoring the regular season title on the heels of 3 wins and 13 top 10 finishes. The Front Row Motorsports driver also had 9 top 5 finishes in 2022 including 4 top 3’s over the final 5 races run.
Rhodes enters as the defending series champion but after a hot start to the year, he’s since cooled. The ThorSport driver had 5 top 5 finishes in the opening 6 races run but hasn’t finished better than 8th in the 10 races since. In fact, he’s only had 4 top 10’s over those last 10 races run.
His teammate in Crafton is a 3-time champ but he too backed his way in. He had 1 top 5 all season, a 5th place run in Darlington. He also only had 2 top 10’s over the final 7 regular seaosn races.
Their teammates in Eckes and Majeski may be the sleepers to watch out. Eckes had 7 top 8 finishes over the final 9 races run including 6 of the 7 in the top 6. Majeski had 7 top 7’s over the final 10 races himself including 6 of which in the top 5.
You also have a great story in Hocevar who ended the regular season with 3 straight top 5 results and 4 top 6’s over the final 5 races.
Between Eckes, Majeski and Hocevar, they combined to finish runner-up in 5 of the final 11 races of the regular season.
You also can’t count out last year’s regular season champion in Nemechek. He started off slow (3 straight finishes of 24th or worse) but since heated up. The second generation driver had 9 top 6 finishes over the final 13 races run including a 3rd at Pocono.
Friesen is also going to be a contender. He had 6 top 10 finishes over the final 8 races after only having 3 in the first 8 run. 5 of the final 8 races saw him finish in the top 5 to where he only had 1 in the opening 8.