JGR's Gabehart hopes Pocono double-disqualification serves as a NASCAR precedent

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JGR's Gabehart hopes Pocono double-disqualification serves as a NASCAR precedent


JGR's Gabehart hopes Pocono double-disqualification serves as a NASCAR precedent


Chris Gabehart was as surprised as anyone that a 2-inch wide, 5 ½ inch long piece of tape was under the wrap of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota last weekend at Pocono Raceway, resulting in a disqualification of Denny Hamlin’s race win.

“It honestly was (my reaction),” Gabehart told RACER Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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

“This one just slipped past the at-track personnel,” Gabehart said. “Honestly, it’s a feeling of embarrassment because it’s not practical, but I am one who feels like I should understand every detail that goes into my race team. But at the same time, for a race team to execute at a high level, you can’t micromanage it to the nth in which they’re not allowed to think. So, it’s a double-edge sword, but we did not realize it.”

In a statement released the day after the disqualification, Joe Gibbs Racing director of competition Wally Brown said the tape placement was a change in the car build process that was “not properly vetted.” Gabehart acknowledged that many probably don’t understand the hundreds of people and thousands of man hours it takes to build the cars.

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

“No different than the shop personnel doesn’t understand all the details that go into a pit call on any given Sunday. Certainly that was the case in this instance, and we’ve just got to do a better job of communicating.”

Hamlin and Gabehart are chasing nothing except race wins and playoff points as the regular season winds down. Too far back in the overall point standings to be among those awarded bonus points for finishing inside the top 10 in the standings after Daytona (Aug. 27), losing the five points from a win is hard to swallow.

A third win, as Pocono was for less than two hours, would have tied Hamlin and Chase Elliott for the most in the series. The five extra playoff points for winning a race would have had Hamlin just three shy of being tied with Elliott for the most in the series.

Despite the disappointment of how things turned out, Gabehart has not had to do any cheerleading or motivational speaking to the team this week.

“It’s certainly frustrating when it escalates to a level of getting a win taken away from you, which is so hard to get,” Gabehart said. “We were going to be tied in the series for the most wins, and it was a 10 playoff [point] swing to the 9 [Chase Elliott]. So, certainly, it’s a different level of frustration, but for the three and a half years that I’ve been a part of the 11 car, we’ve been fortunate enough to win and win often, more than anyone in the series. You don’t get to that level by needing to constantly pump people up. They all know. They’re all motivated. Probably more motivated this Saturday than they were last Saturday, so I’m confident we’ll be here.”

Gabehart and Hamlin are the first to be stripped of a NASCAR Cup Series win since 1960. It is the first time NASCAR has taken away a Cup Series win since implementing a disqualification model in 2019, which includes taking away all benefits of a race win.

“There’s certainly no way to expect it when it hadn’t been done in 62 years,” Gabehart said of what he thought the penalty would be after seeing the tape. “We’re in a new era of NASCAR, Next Gen, and all the soundbites that entail. But the practical reality of that is it was a very harsh penalty for effectively two pieces of tape, and I don’t disagree with NASCAR’s assessment that they needed to make it.

“We were in the wrong and certainly didn’t understand the magnitude that we were, but we were. All I can ask is that the precedent has been set and that everyone be held accountable to the same standards moving forward. What that means for the industry remains to be seen.”