NASCAR Cup Series
Denny Hamlin Runs Ross Chastain in the Wall at Pocono, Payback?
Jul 25, 2022
Perhaps an additional teardown at the NASCAR R&D Center could reveal something more than what disqualified Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch on Sunday at Pocono Raceway but beyond that, Chase Elliott isn’t going to celebrate his unorthodox victory in the M&Ms Fan Appreciation 400.
For one, he never got the chance, and two, he still believes he got beat.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion was on a jet somewhere over Appalachia when the decision was made to disqualify the pair of Joe Gibbs Racing cars and Elliott wasn’t made aware he won until landing to a symphony of beeps and ringtones.
"It was a surprise, something I don't recall happening throughout the time I've watched NASCAR and the Cup Series," Elliott said. "I've been involved in some of these during my short track racing career, so I know it happens, and it's not a shock when it happens in other kinds of racing but it's not something we are accustomed to seeing.
"I was more surprised by it than anything. I don't think any driver wants to win that way. I certainly don't. I don't know what went on. I had already left. I finished third and was thinking about how to be better on the way home, honestly."
It was a familiar post-race scene when Elliott was interviewed after the race, taking no solace in a third-place finish and already lamenting the things he could have done better. Being declared the winner doesn’t change his mind.
"In my opinion, and the opinion of the 9 team, we got beat on the track," Elliott said. "From a balance standpoint with our car, I feel like we could have been better. That's where my head was at when I left and that's where it is today."
Elliott said the satisfaction of winning is found in crossing the line first, getting the balance right on their cars and maximizing the performance of the entire organization ... and none of that happened on Sunday.
Complicating matters is that Joe Gibbs Racing is expected to appeal the disqualification, and it’s possible but unlikely the results could be overturned. That’s not the only reason Elliott isn’t in a celebratory mood, but it’s certainly a factor.
"For me, I don't feel right celebrating someone else's misfortune and it could change by Thursday or Friday or whenever," Elliott said. "I don't know the details of what went on. I don't know what made them make that decision. It's not necessarily something I'm proud of or am going to boast about throughout this situation …
"Look, no race car driver wants to win that way and whether it gets overturned or not overturned, I'm not going to celebrate someone else's misfortune of what have you. That doesn't seem right to me. I crossed the line third and that's how I look at it."
Could that mindset change if NASCAR finds even more discrepancies within the Gibbs cars to the point that it was an obvious and excessive performance advantage?
"Potentially," Elliott said. "I think unless you figure out all the fine details, than probably not, odds are. It’s just hard to say. It really is. I don’t know what they had going on. None of you guys really know what they had going on. I’ve been part of this stuff before. Most cases, its not going to change the outcome.
"Whether it would or would not have, I know from firsthand driving my car yesterday that we didn’t hit everything perfect.
"If I felt like I drove a perfect race and we had a perfect car and nailed the perfect strategy and had three or four fantastic pit stops, then maybe. Maybe. But the way I look at it, we could have done a better job and I could have done a better job of leading us in a different direction and getting our balance right. That’s all I’ve thought about since leaving the track."
Regardless of how he feels about it, a fourth win and 25 playoff points with 15 more looming ahead for winning the regular season championship makes him the odds on favorite to at least make it to the Final Four in November at Phoenix Raceway.
Elliott has qualified for the championship that past two years, but this is the first time he's had a dominant regular season, and he's at least aware that the stat sheet looks solid.
"They're certainly nice to have, it's what we strive to achieve and it's what we want," Elliott said. "Anything you can do to hedge your bet to get to Phoenix is helpful. Putting those points in the bucket is helpful.
"We've never been in a position throughout my career to have very many going into the playoffs so that's unique and different. Even if you take the win away yesterday, we're in a really good place from a playoff point perspective than I could recall being in. Proud of that regardless of yesterday's stuff and looking forward to these next five races to get more."
Elliott pointed out that there have been teams with five plus victories not make it into the Final Four so there is simply more work to be done.
"It does hedge your bet and anything you can do to help yourself is what we want," Elliott said. "Winning the regular season championship and the 15 bonus points is huge as well and we're going to try to do that as well."
Lastly, there's the matter of the trophy, which is currently in Hamlin's possession. Elliott and Hamlin both share agent Rod Moskowitz of PROSPORT Management but the 2020 Cup Series champion doesn't plan on reaching out.
"I haven't really thought about it," Elliott said. "If he wants to keep it, he can keep it as far as I'm concerned. He crossed the finish line first. I haven't really thought about it.
"That's a great question, but I don't think I earned it yesterday so if he wants to keep it than I'm good with that. I'm not going to ask for it."