CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR suspended three key crew members for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin's Cup Series team because a piece of tungsten fell off his No. 11 Toyota Camry on the pace lap before Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The tungsten, a hard rare metal, is required to meet minimum weight requirements on the car, and the NASCAR rule book states if it is separated at any point, it is an automatic four-race suspension for the crew chief, car chief and engineer. In the case of Hamlin's team, that means Chris Gabehart, Brandon Griffeth and Scott Simmons are sidelined.
Joe Gibbs Racing said it would not appeal the penalty and already had roster replacements lined up. Sam McAulay will be the crew chief, Eric Phillips will be the car chief and Scott Eldridge will be the engineer.
The next four Cup Series races are Wednesday at CMS, Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, June 7 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and June 10 at Martinsville Speedway. NASCAR is trying to squeeze in eight postponed Cup Series events from a 10-week suspension for the conavirus pandemic.
The piece of ballast added to the car weighs 35 pounds and costs $1,877 from the supplier. It fell off before the start of the race, and Hamlin went to pit road for additional weight to be added back to the car. He was clearly growing frustrated as his crew worked on the vehicle.
"Let me know when it's the point of 'no return' and we can just go home," Hamlin said.
Replied Gabehart: "Nope. We can't do that."
He didn't join the race until eight laps had been completed, but the reigning Daytona 500 champion who won last Wednesday's event at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina rallied to a 29th-place finish in the 40-car field, with Sunday's race not finishing until after midnight and won by Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski.