For much of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course the battle for the regular season title was front and center. After leading the points for much of the last few weeks, Denny Hamlin came into Indy tied with Kyle Larson.
Hamlin led 27 laps on the day, one less than Larson and several times overcame issues that put him outside the top five. But with two laps left Hamlin was leading on what turned out to be the race’s final restart.
Entering Turn 1, Hamlin was on the inside of rookie Chase Briscoe; Briscoe was forced wide and into the grass. Briscoe slowed then rejoined the field just behind Hamlin. NASCAR penalized Briscoe telling his team the driver owed them a stop and go penalty.
Still behind Hamlin, Briscoe got to the bumper of Hamlin just before Turn 10, and Hamlin’s Toyota was sent spinning. That opened the door for AJ Allmendinger who charged to fist and onto victory.
Hamlin finished 23rd, Briscoe 26th.
After the race the two drivers came together on pit road and had a civil conversation.
Hamlin said he accepted Briscoe’s account of what transpired.
“I agree it’s not on purpose, but my team told me that he had a penalty right away and to me, it’s obvious,” Hamlin said. “If you cut the racetrack and end up in the lead, you’re going to have a penalty. Lack of awareness. Race me for a lap. He went right in the back of me. We can’t race that way. I don’t think he did it malicious. I’ve raced with him for a year now. He’s not that kind of person, just bad judgement.”
“I got hit by the 16 (AJ Allmendinger) going into the corner,” he added. “He shoved me out. Then I shoved him to the right and then the 14 (Chase Briscoe) cut the track and took the lead for a second there. I thought we were probably in good shape there, but this just turns everything upside down.”
For Briscoe, an Indiana native who won on Indy’s road course last season in the Xfinity series,
“I don’t know if there would have been a penalty if I had gone through it slow but that was my only chance to win the race at that point,” Briscoe said. “I went for that and stayed on him tight and knew the16 was right behind me.
“He was on newer tires. A lot of guys were getting lazy through that turn and would just swing it out wide and leave the bottom wide open. So I was kind of all over him (Hamlin) in the esses and when I went to go underneath him I just clipped him in the right rear. He was already trying to get back to the left, so it just turned him right around. It is unfortunate for them. They were probably going to win the race if the 16 didn’t get to him.”
Briscoe said he felt Hamlin understood his side of things after they talked.
“Once I explained to him that I didn’t even know I had a penalty until I got to Turn 10,” Briscoe said. “If I knew I had a penalty, there was no need for me to even try to pass him for the win. If I would have known that earlier, I would have done my stop and go and went on. As I understood it, at that moment in time I could still win the race and I was going for it and got into him accidentally. I think at the end he kind of started to understand. He has been there when you are trying to get your first win and especially in our playoff situation, you have to do what you have to do. That is what I get paid to do and that is what I was trying to do.”
For Hamlin his problems were compounded by the fact that Larson finished third, and with Hamlin’s 23rd place, Larson breaks the tie in the regular season standings and now leads Hamlin by 22 points with two races to go in the regular season.