Chase Elliott won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway after Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were both disqualified.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott didn’t lead a single lap of Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway en route to a third place finish, his fifth consecutive top three finish.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished in the top two, with the former winning for a record-breaking seventh time at the three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Tricky Triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
But both the #11 Toyota of Hamlin and the #18 Toyota of Busch were disqualified from the 160-lap race after failing post-race technical inspection.
NASCAR Cup Series Managing Director Brad Moran stated the front fascia on each car was the source of the issues leading to this decision.
So instead of Hamlin tying Elliott stop the wins list with his third win of the year, Elliott now has twice as many wins as the next closest driver with four, despite not leading any laps in Sunday’s race.
However, Elliott wasn’t the biggest winner of Sunday’s race.
Entering this race, the 21st of 26 races on the regular season schedule, there had been 14 different winners in the 2022 season. With six races remaining in the regular season, that meant that there were six more opportunities for new winners to emerge.
Now there are only five.
Regardless of how many winners there are in the regular season, the playoffs feature 16 spots. This means that in the event there are more than 16 winners, a winner — or winners — will be left on the outside looking in.
All drivers with multiple wins are locked into the playoffs, and if there are more than 16 different winners, the tiebreaker among the single-race winners to determine who earns the final remaining spots becomes regular season points.
So Elliott was already locked into the playoffs, and he had been locked in for quite some time.
But his win eliminates one opportunity for another new winner, which is a big relief for the single-race winners who currently rank low in the point standings, as well as the drivers who have not yet won but have a chance to qualify for the playoffs based on their point totals.
23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch, who actually missed Sunday’s race due to concussion-like symptoms he suffered following a crash during Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session, currently sits lowest in the points standings among the nine single-race winners.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., who sit in third and fourth place in the point standings, respectively, currently find themselves above the playoff cut line based on the totals.
With more new winners, that playoff cut line would move up, and they would be in danger of missing the playoffs, despite ranking inside the top four in points.
Looking at the entire picture, these two drivers are likely the only two drivers that have a chance to get in on points, as the highest driver below the cut line, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, is considerably behind Truex.
Of course, aside from the fact that Elliott did win Sunday’s race, another big positive for these drivers is the fact that there really weren’t any winless drivers in contention to win late. So even if Elliott hadn’t won, they likely would have been safe from a new winner.
Hamlin and Busch have already won this year, and even with their results not factored into the equation, the top five finishers have all been victorious at some point this season.
The highest finishing non-winner was Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell in sixth place.
The 22nd of 26 races on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule is the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. It is scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 31, and it is set to be broadcast live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on NBC beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!