While reigning NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson was celebrating his first win of 2022 Sunday in Fontana, Chase Elliott was no doubt disappointed.
Elliott was leading in the early going at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, when his Chevy hit the wall. He was forced to slow and pit for repairs. He then began to try and rally back through the field.
Meanwhile his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, was taking control of the race. Elliott caught the lead group and 20 laps to go during a three-wide battle for the lead, Larson moved up and into Elliott pinching Elliott’s Chevy into the wall.
Kyle Larson issued a block on teammate Chase Elliott, squeezing the 2020 champ into the wall.
“What the f—k is he doing, man? It wasn’t even close,” Elliott shouted to his team over his in-car radio.” … It’s probably going to break again before the end of the race. But I don’t really give a f–k who is leading the race.”
Elliott slowed and began to fall back through the pack. His prediction came true a few laps later when he spun with less than 10 laps to go bringing out the races 12th and final caution. Larson would go on to win, while Elliott had to settle for 26th, two laps down.
Larson later said he had made a mistake.
“I didn’t get through 3 and 4 very well,” he said. “Joey (Logano) did a good job on the bottom, and then we were side drafting each other, and I’m not even looking in my mirror at that point because all I’m worried about is Joey and I’m looking out of my A-post window.
“I had a run, so I went to peel off, and as soon as I peeled off, my spotter is yelling, “Outside! Outside! Outside!” And I had no clue he was even coming.
“Yeah, I mean, I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror. My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joey.
“It happened, and I hate that it did. I know they’re upset. But we’ll talk, and hopefully we’ll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose.”
Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews said he talked to Elliott after the race.
“I think we’ve got to understand what those guys have been through all day long,” Andrews said. “And where they had come back to, and obviously to be in contention there for the win late in the race is just a true testament to the great job that Alan (crew chief Gustafson) and that entire team did to get that car back and have it competitive.
“I think certainly nothing intentional there by Kyle.”
Andrews said they will talk about what happened in meetings this coming week.
“I know we’ll go back and talk about it in our meetings tomorrow and Tuesday, and we’ll look at all the facts and we’ll look at what happened, and we’ll talk about it as a company, and at the end of the day we’re going to — as we always do, we’ll do the right things for the company and get ready to go to Las Vegas in a good spot for really everybody.”
Andrews said the meetings will be with everyone involved.
“First that’ll need to start from our perspective between Kyle and Chase, and hopefully they can get to a good spot and kind of step back and look at the data and really watch what happened there,” he said.
“And then of course as a group Jeff Gordon, Chad (Knaus) and myself and Mr. Hendrick, of course we want to speak to them because we want to go to Las Vegas in a good spot, and certainly very proud of both of those teams. They both had great race cars. That’s the great news, right.
“This other stuff that happens on the racetrack, we can get all that to a good spot between those two teams and give Cliff (Daniels, winning crew chief) credit for standing down there talking to him a while ago, and he said after what happened, their mission is going to be to do everything they can to help Chase and that 9 team as well as our other teams get a win and get on to the playoffs.”
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