NASCAR’s premier Cup Series has battles both on and off the track. There are drivers that are friends and others that are frenemies. There are battles on the track and off, as well, as emotions bubble over when an on-circuit racing incident causes a big crash for either or both of the combatants involved.
Such was the case last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where NASCAR conduced its longest race of the year on Memorial Day weekend. The Coca-Cola 600 had to be delayed by a day due to inclement weather – and delayed mid-race due to more of the same – and frustration reigned in the garage area, the pits and yes, on the race track. There was the immediacy of having to race a day late and putting crews behind the eight-ball as they prepped for another race just a few days away in St. Louis.
One of NASCAR’s biggest Cup Series stars, Denny Hamlin who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and is part-owner of 23XI Racing, was trading positions with NASCAR’s five-time most popular driver and its 2020 Cup Series champion, second-generation star Chase Elliott.
The two rubbed gently for a few laps late in the second stage of a four-stage enduro. Elliott appeared to get a bit loose and point his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into Hamlin’s Toyota Camry. The result was a massive hit for the Virginia native while the Georgian’s car continued with lighter damage.
NASCAR, which doesn’t normally agree with Hamlin on most points when he’s got a beef, decided that Elliott’s move merited a one-race suspension, which he’ll serve this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis. Corey LaJoie will substitute for Elliott.
The suspension came after Hamlin posted simulated data on the crash and asked for the suspension. As the co-owner of 23XI, he reminded the series that his driver, Bubba Wallace had received a one-race sit-down after deliberately hooking Hendrick Motorsports’ 2021 champ Kyle Larson during a race at Las Vegas last year. After exiting his car in Charlotte, a furious Hamlin wanted to resort to fisticuffs with Elliott. The suspension is, of course, a far better solution.
NASCAR’s rule book states that “removing another competitor from championship contention in a dangerous manner when not racing for position based on the available evidence and specific circumstances of the incident,” calls for penalties. NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer made clear that the move “was an intentional act by Chase, in our opinion, in our view after reviewing all the available resources.” Sawyer examined the in-car camera, data as well as steering, throttle, braking information and determined the move was intentional.
Elliott denied intentionally-wrecking Hamlin. “Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore,” he said. “So unfortunately not, no, just an unfortunate circumstance.” He was a bit more vocal and angered right after the wreck, where he told his team that Hamlin “ran over us twice in the last four laps. Did I miss something there, or no?”
Hamlin noted the similarity to what occurred in Charlotte last weekend and what happened in the Wallace/Larson incident last year. He called Elliott’s move a “tantrum.” On his podcast, he said the move was payback for earlier contact between the two. “There’s no explanation that he could possibly give, which he didn’t have a reason for hanging left. You know he obviously didn’t want to admit it,” Hamlin said.
Elliott’s team, Hendrick Motorsports put out a very short statement that read, in part, “We understand NASCAR’s need to maintain consistency in its officiating. The penalty will not be appealed and we will submit a formal request for a playoff waiver.”