Denny Hamlin came from behind to win at Darlington last weekend, but just days later his celebration has been cut short.
NASCAR filed an L-1 level penalty against Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team this week, claiming the team violated NASCAR rules regarding rear suspension.
The consequences of the penalty are severe. First, Hamlin’s win at Darlington has been encumbered, which means he technically won the race but will receive none of the benefits for having done so. It’s similar to when basketball or football teams vacate wins – everyone knows who won, but it doesn’t count towards official records or standings.
The most significant benefit a driver can lose out on? That he won’t automatically qualify for the playoffs for winning a Cup Series race. Now for Hamlin that isn’t a big concern since he’s already won another race this year. But for someone like Joey Logano, whose win at Richmond earlier this year was encumbered and hasn’t won another race, it can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
But there are other negatives to the penalty, too. Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, was fined $50,000 and suspended for two races – he’ll be replaced by Chris Gabehart, the crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 XFINITY team.
The team also lost 25 owner points and 25 driver points, and Hamlin will not be allowed to use the five playoff points typically earned in a win during the postseason.
So, how does all this affect the playoffs or the season finale?
Not much, other than hurting Hamlin’s chances of making a deep postseason run. He was already into the playoffs, and so unlike Logano, this isn’t a season killer. Hamlin’s currently ninth in the playoff standings, too, so he isn’t likely to fall out in the first round even without those extra points.