“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Well, not this past weekend. Denny Hamlin crossed the finish line first Sunday in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway — and ended up second-to-last in the official results.
Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch finished first and second in a race that saw the Gibbs team be considered the favorites over a strong weekend.
Both drivers started the race on the front row with Hamlin winning the pole and Busch qualifying second and together led more than half of the race.
Later in the race, Hamlin in his number 11 FedEx Toyota delivered a payback to Ross Chastain — whose aggressive driving throughout the season often had Hamlin on the wrong end of the interactions — by running the number 1 Chevrolet into the wall as the two battled for the lead.
Hamlin would go on to finish the race as the unofficial winner, followed by teammate Busch, Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, and Daniel Suarez. It would have been Hamlin’s third win of the season, tying him with Chase Elliott for the lead and put Hamlin just three playoff points behind Elliott heading into the final few regular season races.
The win was also big for Hamlin personally: it would have made him the winningest driver ever at Pocono (passing Jeff Gordon), and given him his 49th career win (passing Tony Stewart).
But it was for naught.
Over two hours after the celebratory burnout, NASCAR announced Hamlin and Busch were both disqualified from their 1-2 finish after a post-race inspection found an unauthorized part in the front fascia of the cars that could not have been found during the pre-race inspection. NASCAR was also taking both cars to its research facility in Charlotte for a further inspection.
The disqualifications mean that Hamlin would finish 35th — second-to-last — and Busch would finish 36th — last.
Chase Elliott — who did not lead a lap at all during the race — is now the official winner of the race. It is his third win in five races, with the other two races being second-place finishes. Instead of tightening the battle for playoff points bringing Hamlin within three points of Elliott, Elliott now has a 25 to 12 point advantage over the Toyota driver who is now tied for fourth in those standings.
This is the first time since 1960 that a NASCAR Cup Series race winner was disqualified as the series returns to a standard of disqualifying winners for breaking the rules rather than “encumbering” winners. Encumbered winners would allow the disqualified winner to stay the winner, but lose the points that came with that win.
As for Chastain, the guy Hamlin ran into the wall to “payback”… he ended up finishing ahead of Hamlin in 32nd.
To be fair, this was probably the best burnout ever done by a 35th place finisher: