LONG POND, Pa. – The boring headline would be that Denny Hamlin won his third race of the season from the pole in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday (July 24th 2022). In NASCAR, however, nothing ever seems to stay boring. As of now, Hamlin isn’t even the winner anymore.
Hamlin took the initial victory, but as it stands following post-race inspection, Chase Elliott was declared winner.
Hamlin’s up, down, up again and down again day included a meeting with the SAFER barrier, a spin in the Tunnel Turn, a shortage of fuel, and a late restart that resulted in a debt being repaid to his rival this season, Ross Chastain.
It also included a disqualification along with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate who finished second.
After post-race inspection, both the No. 11 of Hamlin and the No. 18 of Kyle Busch were disqualified. Per NASCAR Cup Series Managing Director Brad Moran, the disqualifications are appealable, so specifics of the penalties are not available at this time. All we know is that it is related to the aero properties of the front fascia.
If the disqualifications hold up, Elliott’s gifted win marks his fourth win on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Season. It’s his 17th career victory as he takes one step closer towards winning the 2022 Regular Season Championship.
Pocono’s usual schedule involves two visits to The Tricky Triangle, but as of this year, the track only received one date. Again, this one date was nothing close to boring.
BEFORE THE DQ: HAMLIN VS CHASTAIN
The pairing of Chastain and Hamlin on the front row of the second-to-last restart had many wondering what could possibly occur between the two.
Those two have had history this season. Hamlin has been at the receiving end of a few Chastain incidents, and in return, Hamlin has chosen to race back exponentially aggressive in return. It started at World Wide Technology Raceway, continued into Atlanta Motor Speedway, and possibly ended on Sunday night.
Hamlin drove into Turn 1 without any regard for the driver of the No. 1. Hamlin took his corner, took his lead, and Chastain ran out of road, slamming the Turn 1 wall and crashing with Kevin Harvick. Chastain wound up out of the event.
“I mean, what did you want me to do?” Hamlin responded when asked about the contact with Chastain. “What did you expect me to do? We got position on him, and he just ran out of race track.”
After getting out of the infield care center, Chastain said that “it was something that has been owed to me for a few months now.”
STAGE 1 CUT SHORT BY SPIN
It was a wacky start (and end) to the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400. On the start, Hamlin immediately got out of the groove on the first corner of the first lap and tagged the wall.
This gave the lead to Kyle Busch and the M&M’s driver went on to lead the first lap of the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400.
Busch led for the first handful of laps until the first caution flew for a spin by Austin Cindric. On the ensuing restart, Busch also slid out of the groove, avoiding the wall that Hamlin hit, but losing a handful of spots.
Kyle Larson would take control from there. As Pocono races tend to be, pit strategy would come into play before the end of the stage.
A couple of drivers, led by Bubba Wallace, decided to pit with three laps to go. A possible strategy for the leaders would be to pit as the pits were closing with two to go, but that chance didn’t come.
As the leaders were coming to take two to go, Aric Almirola took a slide out of Turn 3 and brought out the caution, effectively ending the stage right there and then, giving the stage win to Larson.
STAGE 2 GETS YELLOW FEVER
The first 20 laps or so of the second stage were mostly run under yellow flag conditions. It started with a mechanical failure on the No. 77 of Josh Bilicki in Turn 1.
The trend continued on the next restart as Hamlin went around in Turn 2. A third caution came out from a spinning Corey Lajoie after contact with Michael McDowell.
After the restart, the field managed to figure it out and once again, different strategies came into play. The first stage was only 30 laps, so the field had plenty of fuel to make it the distance.
The second stage would be 65 laps, until the conclusion of lap 95. Even with the multiple yellows, making it the distance wouldn’t be a possibility.
Some drivers and teams realized this and opted for fuel-only stops early in the going. Others tried to stretch it as far as possible, to make one less stop. These drivers somewhat lucked out as another caution would fly at lap 84 for a spinning Ty Dillon in Turn 2.
Busch made his way back to the lead after the pit cycle and held on to take the green-checkered flag to win Stage 2.
FINAL STAGE GETS SPICY
As the final stage continued with another 65 lap run, but this time to the checkers, Busch looked to be in control before final pit stops changed everything.
Chastain was lurking in second behind Busch for the majority of the first half of the run. After pits cycled, Chastain found himself the leader and Busch was back in third. In between them was Hamlin who had recovered incredibly from his misfortunate earlier.
The kicker for Hamlin was his quick stop was too quick. The No. 11 team didn’t get the car fully fueled up, and he was chasing the lead while being a couple of laps short of making the end.
A caution from a Ryan Blaney crash on the frontstretch changed everything. Not only would Hamlin be good to the end on gas, he would also erase the deficit to the lead and get the opportunity to start alongside Chastain.
On the final restart, Hamlin held off the charge from Busch and went on to take the win initially. After the inspection, Elliott was gifted the victory after crossing the line in third.
Only five races remain now until the 2022 Playoffs begin and Elliott has a. Next up is a date with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course next weekend.
POCONO RACEWAY TOP 10 FINISHERS:
- #9 – Chase Elliott
- #8 – Tyler Reddick
- #99 – Daniel Suarez
- #20 – Christopher Bell
- #5 – Kyle Larson
- #34 – Michael McDowell
- #19 – Martin Truex Jr
- #23 – Bubba Wallace
- #43 – Erik Jones
- #3 – Austin Dillon
#11 – Denny Hamlin & #18 – Kyle Busch finished 1-2 but were disqualified.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com