Denny Hamlin crosses the start-finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Torey Fox | NASCAR Digital Media

Denny Hamlin on Pocono DQ: ‘It was a shock to all of us, for sure’

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Denny Hamlin said he had barely driven out of Pocono Raceway infield tunnel late Sunday when he found out that his first-finishing No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had been disqualified. The text came from crew chief Chris Gabehart, who kept watch over the team’s car as it passed through the post-race technical inspection stations.

The vinyl car design on Hamlin’s No. 11 had already been unwrapped for a closer look by NASCAR officials. After the full teardown, Hamlin’s car — and teammate Kyle Busch’s No. 18 with it — was found with unapproved modifications to the front fascia. What would have been his 49th Cup Series win and team owner Gibbs’ 199th — both near-milestones — evaporated.

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“I think it was a shock to all of us, for sure; something that hadn’t been done in 60-some years,” Hamlin said Saturday after Busch Light Pole Qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. “I thought we had one of those Richard Petty big engines in the car or something, but not this time. It’s a piece of tape, and they were pretty consistent that that’s the way that they want it starting with this new car. I just hope that it’s consistent for everybody, no matter who wins the race.”

The ruling was a first in 62 years to be more precise, dating back to race officials stripping Emanuel Zervakis of an apparent Cup Series win because of an oversized fuel tank. Sunday’s decision elevated Chase Elliott to victory, demoting Hamlin and Busch to the back of the Pocono pack.

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Hamlin had at least some light-hearted social media fodder the day after the DQ, sitting down to the dinner table with the trophy and the winner’s champagne bottle. He said that the trophy had made its way to Indianapolis, but as of Saturday morning’s qualifying session, it was not yet in Elliott’s hands.

“It will be transported, yes,” Hamlin said. “I told Chase, and we had some good texts back and forth, I said, ‘The trophy is yours. You’re gonna have to fight Taylor (Hamlin’s daughter) for the flag.”

Elliott confirmed that he had not received the trophy in the wake of qualifying. “We haven’t talked about it yet, but that’s cool,” he said. “Whatever works.”

When told that delivery service FedEx — Hamlin’s sponsor — was apparently not involved in the transfer, Elliott quipped: “Yeah, it would’ve been probably cheap. They’d probably give him a good deal.”