Feud between Hamlin and Elliott gives NASCAR tough choice over suspension
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Chase Elliott is NASCAR’s meal ticket. Denny Hamlin wants him suspended for allegedly wrecking him in retaliation during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The call from Hamlin puts NASCAR in the unenviable position of potentially having to park its most popular driver — a decision that could alienate Elliott's large fanbase and lead to another drop in television ratings.
Ratings dropped significantly when Elliott missed six races earlier this season with a broken leg.
NASCAR told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it is reviewing the incident and will announce a decision by Wednesday.
Ryan Blaney went on to win the rain-delayed 400-lap race.
The Hamlin-Elliott feud began Monday when Elliott, after being driven up into the wall by Hamlin, appeared to make a sharp left turn into Hamlin’s right rear bumper. The hook sent the defending race winner into the wall, ending the race for both drivers.
Hamlin said he was so furious he couldn’t see straight when he emerged from the infield care center, claiming Elliott had a “tantrum” on the track and “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable.”
Elliott, named NASCAR's most popular driver the past five years, casually denied he deliberately wrecked Hamlin in retaliation.
“Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore,” Elliott said. “So unfortunately not, no, just an unfortunate circumstance.”
Hamlin didn't let up. He initially posted data on social media attempting to show Elliott's hook was deliberate and didn't let up Tuesday on his weekly podcast.
“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 ranted on “Actions Detrimental.”
“I pointed out in the data that I tweeted that once he got into the wall, there was nothing wrong with his car. He’s turned the wheel back straight, like he was going down the straightaway, and you can tell by data whether you’ve got toe link damage or not,” Hamlin continued. “Everyone hits the wall. But he threw a hissy fit and he just hung the left on us in the most dangerous part of the racetrack that you possibly could and it ended my day and his, and in my opinion, he shouldn’t be racing next weekend. Because NASCAR set a precedent last year on this.”
NASCAR last fall suspended Hamlin's 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace for one race after it deemed he intentionally wrecked Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson at Las Vegas.
The big question now is whether NASCAR would consider doing to the same to the ultra-popular Elliott.
Elliott broke hi s leg in a snowboarding incident and the sport's TV ratings took a nosedive . And when Elliott was deemed healthy enough to race at Martinsville, NASCAR recognized its importance and hurried to promote his return on social media and with commercials.
It's clear they don't want to lose Elliott's fan appeal. But if NASCAR finds that he intentionally wrecked Hamlin with a dangerous move and doesn't act, it could look as if a double standard exists and the rules only apply to certain drivers.
One thing is for sure, Hamlin is not going to let the matter drop.
He doubled down on “Actions Detrimental."
“NASCAR needs to do the right thing and be consistent here. It’s time to make the right call. There is no excuse you can give," Hamlin added. “He was going dead straight and then all of a sudden he takes a hard left 120 degrees with the steering wheel. That is not an accident. It is intentional.”
Hamlin said that if NASCAR doesn't do anything, he plans to call an “emergency episode.”
“That’s a fact,” he added. "And I’m going to bring up all of the instances that have incurred a big penalty."
Hamlin called the move immature.
“It is childish and it just (ticks) me off," Hamlin said. "You have to be better than that. I don’t give a (darn). What goes on in your mind to think that is the right move to make, I don’t know.”
For now, the ball is in NASCAR's court.
Hamlin also said on his podcast that as a car owner he wants to see Wallace focus on his accomplishments on the track which includes four top-five finishes in the past four races, rather than making news off of it.
Wallace was seen feuding during a rain delay Monday with Aric Almirola, who shoved Wallace before the two were broken up by NASCAR security. A week earlier Wallace received criticism when he used an obscene gesture in a television interview after the All-Star race.
NASCAR did not punish Wallace, saying the incident wasn't malicious.
“It's out of style," Hamlin said of the hand gesture. "Whoever still does it needs to stop. Stop doing it. It's childish. ... It's just not worth it.”