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NASCAR takeaways: Pocono sees significant drama in all 3 series

Thoughts on Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch's issues, Ross Chastain's wreck, Ty Gibbs' Cup debut, Noah Gragson's maturation, and the NASCAR Truck Series season.

Austin Konenski
NASCAR
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR’s top three levels of racing all went to Pocono Raceway for its only weekend of the 2022 season and it did not disappoint with an influx of drama in every race.

Let’s dive into the five most significant takeaways from the weekend.

1. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch’s controversy

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Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch crossed the finish line for a 1-2 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing as they looked to flex the organization’s muscles again in a second straight week.

However, the news that rocked the NASCAR world came out when Hamlin and Busch’s cars failed post-race inspection due to issues with the front fascia on each vehicle.

Due to these disqualifications, Chase Elliott was declared the event winner and Ross Chastain was awarded the Stage 2 victory and one playoff point in place of Busch.

Joe Gibbs released a statement on the matter and did not elaborate on whether the organization would appeal or not.

“We were shocked to learn of the infraction that caused our two cars to fail NASCAR’s post-race technical inspection. We plan to review every part of the process that led to this situation.”

Joe Gibbs

This is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic post-race situations we have ever seen in NASCAR history. However, could Joe Gibbs Racing find a way to reinstate these finishing positions?

It is not unprecedented for an organization to win an appeal. Noah Gragson was disqualified from the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway in 2021 but won the appeal during the week.

After the appeal process, NASCAR updated the rulebook that related to Gragson’s possible infraction that was found in the post-race inspection process.

If Joe Gibbs can prove there is a gray area or that it’s simply not in the rulebook, Hamlin and Busch can see their finishes reinstated but it’s very, very rare to win an appeal despite Gragson’s victory.

There will certainly be eyes on the situation this week and it’s hard to discuss further without knowing any specific information.

2. Ross Chastain’s aggressive driving came back around

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Ross Chastain had one of the cars to beat on Sunday afternoon but that came to an end when Denny Hamlin gave him no room in Turn 1. Chastain hit the wall and saw a wreck that ended his day.

Hamlin didn’t intentionally wreck Chastain. If the 29-year-old driver let off the throttle, he would’ve continued forward but his previous racing created this situation.

Chastain has gotten into trouble with many, many drivers this season and created a reputation that is a bad look due to his aggressive driving.

This is something Chastain echoed post-race after his incident.

“I had that one coming. If I had raced smarter two months ago, I would have had plenty of room off Turn 1.”

Ross Chastain

Chastain is certainly right and it’s not the last time it will happen either. The way drivers race others will always come around and the list keeps growing for him this season.

In fact, Hamlin should not be even with Chastain. The driver of the No. 11 car didn’t intentionally wreck Chastain and it has been more than once that he saw his day severely affected by him.

It’s important to understand and learn the impact of racing other drivers aggressively. It will be very hard to win a championship at any level of respect is not shown.

This won’t be the last time Chastain is on this side of the equation and how he reacts will be key moving forward.

Related: Evaluating NASCAR’s reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway

3. Ty Gibbs’ unexpected NASCAR Cup Series debut

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Ty Gibbs didn’t expect to be driving the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing at Pocono Raceway entering the weekend but Kurt Busch’s qualifying crash changed that storyline very quickly.

It didn’t look like a crash that would keep him out of Sunday’s event but NASCAR did not medically clear Busch after he reported concussion-like symptoms.

It was the right decision to keep him out and put Gibbs in the car on short notice. The 19-year-old driver brought it home for a respectable 16th-place finish (18th place if not for the disqualifications).

Expectations should have been very low as Gibbs was thrown into a new car with different air, different steering, and different shifting than his No. 54 car in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Gibbs didn’t perform at a high level but that was expected. He gained many spots during the Chastain wreck but then quickly faded at the end of the race as he was above his true running position.

It was a great learning experience as Gibbs has a future in the NASCAR Cup Series that is coming sooner rather than later. More experience in the NextGen car is better for a driver’s future.

Will Gibbs get any more starts this season? It doesn’t seem likely as he tries to earn his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and the playoffs near for the Cup Series.

However, it’s clear that Gibbs will be racing at NASCAR’s top level soon and Sunday afternoon’s performance was good enough to show why that will happen.

Related: Tyler Reddick, 23XI Racing dramatically shift NASCAR’s silly season landscape

4. Noah Gragson’s maturation in front of our eyes

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Noah Gragson hit a low point at Road America when he intentionally wrecked Sage Karam coming into a blind corner that caused a massive pileup and penalty later in the week.

However, Gragson’s performance on Saturday evening was undoubtedly the greatest drive of his entire career and one of the best in NASCAR over the course of the 2022 season.

Ty Gibbs was heavily pressuring Gragson for about the last 20 laps and it required a perfect performance to hold him off. Time after time, Gibbs easily could have pushed him into a mistake.

Gragson didn’t make a single one. Gibbs got side-by-side with the 24-year-old driver, even on the last lap, but he persevered and held on for his third victory of the 2022 season.

The two drivers are known for their aggression and controversy but none of that was seen. It was the most epic, clean, and classy duel of the entire season that required pinpoint driving.

It was a championship-level drive by both drivers, specifically Gragson. The entire garage watched Gragson and Gibbs mature in front of our eyes while keeping who they are as a person off track.

There was a lot to love from the final 20 laps of the Xfinity Series event. That sequence of events is what NASCAR is about when it comes to elite entertainment and driving.

Gragson’s best days are ahead of him and it’s a reminder of what everyone thought he was capable of doing in the No. 9 car for JR Motorsports.

Related: NASCAR needs to return to Iowa Speedway

5. The end of the NASCAR Truck Series regular season

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The NASCAR Truck Series regular season has already come to an end as the playoffs begin next weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway with 10 drivers vying for the championship.

Chandler Smith won the regular season finale at Pocono Raceway as Zane Smith clinched the regular season championship after a breakout start of the season.

First off, it is crazy how the Truck Series playoffs are starting at the end of July. This is a month ahead of both the Xfinity and Cup Series playoffs as both start in September.

Zane Smith and Chandler Smith should be the favorites as they are the only drivers that have one more than a single time over the course of the year.

Other notable drivers in the playoffs include defending champion Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemechek, Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger, and Matt Crafton.

What about the sleepers? Christian Eckes and Ty Majeski have been fast all season and it would not be surprising to see any of them make a massive run.

The series has been full of excitement this season and returning to Lucas Oil Raceway will only make the excitement higher now.

There will be plenty of coverage and predictions for the Truck Series playoffs this week.

Related: Frankie Muniz has eyes on NASCAR for the 2023 season