Denny Hamlin shouldn’t be looking for a Christmas card from Chase Elliott anytime soon.
Elliott looked to be well on his way to his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win Sunday at Martinsville. He led the second most laps on the day, 123 and his only challenge in the waning laps seemed to be Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski had the lead with 10 laps to go and seemed to be checking out, but a spin after earlier contact sent Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano spinning and brought out a caution with 9 laps to go.
The restart came with 4 laps to go. Elliott booted Keselowski up the track and took the lead as Hamlin moved to second. Hamlin put a bumper to Elliott entering turn 3, spun him into the wall and the caution came out.
Elliott finished 27th in a race many thought was stolen from him.
“I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what his problem was. It was unnecessary I hadn’t raced him dirty all-day long. There was no reason for that and he comes over and talks to me a second ago and tells me he had somebody pushing him into Turn 3. I thought that was funny because there was nobody within two car lengths of him into Turn 3 behind myself. I don’t know what the deal was, but it is so disappointing. We had the best car I’ve ever had here at Martinsville. And had an opportunity to go straight to Homestead and because of him we don’t.”
After the race was over Elliott used his damaged Chevy to push Hamlin’s Toyota into the wall. The two then exited their racecars and had a heated exchange.
“Well, he came over and talked to me on the back straightaway and he said somebody was pushing him,” Elliott said. “But it wasn’t two car lengths between him and the next guy. So, my Momma always said if you don’t have anything nice not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas.”
Hamlin, a native of Virginia, was booed loudly by the Virginia crowd as he was interviewed over the track PA system; Elliott was cheered like a rock star when he was interviewed on the same PA moments later.
“I got into the back of him (Chase Elliott) and he spun out,” Hamlin said. “Trying to get a race win, everyone wrecked everybody there at the end. It was complete bullshit chaos. I got in the back of him and he spun out. Somebody got into the back of me and I wrecked too. It was just a mess at the end. I mean, you know everybody is doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team, I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead. Not sure you know – I’m not sitting here saying I wrecked him on purpose and I tried to move him out of the way and spun out.”
Later Sunday night, Hamlin took to Twitter to issue a statement of apology:
“I’ve raced nearly 10,000 races since I was (seven),” Hamlin wrote. “(Sunday) was the first time I’ve ever spun out the leader. I regret the outcome because it was not intentional the way it turned out but I’m responsible for my own car and take blame. Nothing I say can turn back the clock but it’s a life lesson and hope no kids out there aspire to race thinks that the way you should do it. It’s becoming normal in our sport now and I hate that I’m now in the discussion as a guilty party but I’ll move on and hope Chase, his team and fans accept my apology.”