JGR’s Gabehart hopes Pocono’s double disqualification will set a NASCAR precedent

Chris Gabhardt was as surprised as anyone that a 2-inch-wide, 5-inch-long strip was enclosed in the casing of the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota last weekend at the Pocono Raceway, ruling out Denny Hamlin’s race win.

“It was[my reaction]frankly,” Gebhart told RACER Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR found the tape in a post-race check on the front end of both Hamlin’s only car and teammate Kyle Busch, who finished second. Both teams Joe Gibbs Racing were disqualified from the event and lost all points that could have been awarded for first and second places.

“This guy really got the crew on the right track,” Gabbart said. “Honestly, it feels awkward because it’s not practical, but I feel like I have to understand every detail that goes into my racing team. But at the same time, for the racing team to perform at a high level, you can’t manage that precisely to the point where they are not allowed to. Thinking about it. So, it’s a double-edged sword, but we didn’t realize it.”

In a statement issued the day after the disqualification, Joe Gibbs Racing, director of competition, Wally Brown, said placing the bar was a change in the car’s construction process that had “not been properly checked”. Chabhart admitted that many probably don’t understand the hundreds of people and thousands of man-hours it takes to build cars.

“I’m not proud of that, or feel like I don’t somehow have to do a better job as a crew chief to understand every detail of the execution,” said Gabhart, “but no crew chief who competes in the top 15 on a weekly basis will tell you that they understand every level of detail put into their cars because it’s a team sport, and there’s no way anyone could do it,

“No different from the store staff not understanding every detail that goes into the call on any Sunday. That was certainly the case in this case, and we just have to do a better job of communicating.”

Hamlin and Gebhardt are chasing nothing but race wins and qualifying points as the regular season winds down. Too far in the overall points standings to be among those with extra points to finish in the top ten rankings after Daytona (August 27), the five point loss from the win is hard to swallow.

The third win, because Pocono was for under two hours, would have equaled Hamlin and Chase Elliott for the most in the series. The extra five points for a race win would have only three times ashamed Hamlin to tie with Elliott for most of the series.

Despite the disappointment with the way things went, Gaphhardt didn’t have to cheer or speak up for the team this week.

“It’s definitely frustrating when it escalates to the level of having a win taken away from you, which is hard to achieve,” said Gabhart. “We would have tied the series for the most wins, and 10 was a playoff swing to 9. So, sure, it’s a different level of frustration, but in the three and a half years that I was part of the 11, we were lucky enough to win and win in many More often than not, more than anyone else in the series. You don’t get to that level with the need to constantly pump people up. They all know. They are all excited. The motivation was probably more this Saturday than it was last Saturday, so I’m sure we’ll be here.”

Gabhart and Hamlin are the first to be stripped of the NASCAR Cup Series since 1960. It’s the first time NASCAR has won a Cup Series since the implementation of the disqualification model in 2019, which includes removing all race-winning benefits.

“There is certainly no way to foresee it when it hasn’t been implemented in 62 years,” Chabhart said of what he thought the punishment would be after watching the tape. “We’re in a new age of NASCAR, the next generation, and all the vocals involved. But the practical truth of that was that it was a pretty harsh punishment for effectively two pieces of tape, and I don’t disagree with NASCAR’s assessment that they needed to do that.”

“We were wrong and certainly didn’t understand how big we were, but we were. All I can ask is that the precedent is set and that everyone will be held to the same standards in the future. It remains to be seen what that means for the industry.”