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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Michelle R. Martinelli

NASCAR official on why Chase Elliott was suspended for 1 race for wrecking Denny Hamlin

Welcome to FTW’s NASCAR Feud of the Week, where we provide a detailed breakdown of the latest absurd, funny and sometimes legitimate controversies and issues within the racing world.

Following an incident Monday in NASCAR’s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600, the governing body dealt Chase Elliott a one-race suspension for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin.

Nearly halfway through NASCAR’s longest race and “crown jewel” event — which Ryan Blaney ultimately won — Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet appeared to deliberately turn into Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 186 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hamlin squeezed Elliott up the track, and the No. 9 car brushed the wall. Elliott seemingly turned into Hamlin, causing the No. 11 to crash head-on into the frontstretch wall.

NASCAR officials reviewed race data and ruled that Elliott intentionally wrecked Hamlin, and the behavioral penalty was announced Tuesday afternoon.

“In the heat of the battle, things happen,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio following the suspension announcement. “[B]ut drivers needs to understand you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way.”

Hendrick Motorsports responded with a statement saying it would not appeal the penalty and noted Corey LaJoie, who normally drives for Spire Motorsports, will fill in for Elliott this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. The team also said it will submit for a waiver to keep Elliott eligible for the playoffs in the fall.

Sawyer further explained on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio:

“We arrived at a one-race suspension for Chase. We take this very seriously in the fact that the incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us steering, gives us throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion and our view after reviewing all the available resources there.

“We have great racing on our race tracks. We have some of the most phenomenal athletes that are driving these cars, and in the heat of the battle, things happen. But they have to learn to react in a different way.”

The situation between Elliott and Hamlin is similar to an incident last season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In October 2022, NASCAR determined Bubba Wallace intentionally turned into Kyle Larson, and similarly, Wallace was suspended for a single race.

When asked what convinced NASCAR that Elliott’s dangerous contact was intentional, Sawyer continued:

“Watching the optics of it, immediately from the towers, like wow, that looked like a hard left-hand turn into the right-rear quarter of [Hamlin], which obviously turned the [No.] 11 into the front straightaway wall there head-on. Again, as we did last night [and] again this morning early throughout the day, you start looking at the data. There was some conversation about maybe a broken toe link on the right rear.

“And as you look through all that, nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke by looking at the steering, looking at in-car camera, hand position on steering wheel and the way the steering wheel was turned hard to the left, it just supported what the optics were. And again, that’s why we landed on the penalty we did.”

After the incident, Hamlin was understandably fuming. He pointed to the previous incident between Wallace and Larson, saying:

“It’s a tantrum, and he shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t care. It is the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. Exact same. He shouldn’t be racing. It’s a tantrum.”

Monday, Elliott said he wasn’t retaliating against Hamlin and added:

“The No. 11 ran us up into the fence there. Once you tear the right-side off these things, it’s kind of over.”

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