Kyle Busch won Sunday’s playoff race at Martinsville and advanced to the championship race at Homestead, but his win certainly wasn’t the biggest storyline following the race.
Instead, everyone in the NASCAR world has been discussing the feud between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. Hamlin hit the back of Elliott’s car and spun him out on a restart near the end of the race, and it ended Elliott’s chances of winning his first career race.
The two confronted each other after the race, and Elliott told Hamlin, “you wrecked me.”
The aftermath of the incident was what was most surprising. Hamlin made a dirty move to spin him out, and there’s no way to argue that at this point. Even if Hamlin had won, it’s still something that doesn’t belong in the sport, and it was clearly a dirty move.
During the post race interviews, Hamlin was even booed by the crowd in his home state. Meanwhile, a loud majority of the fans cheered Elliott, which signified two things: first, the fans who saw what happened believed that Hamlin was in the wrong. And secondly — and this is perhaps the most intriguing aspect moving forward — it appears as if NASCAR fans have chosen Elliott as the heir to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s status of most popular driver in the sport.
Elliott is only 21, and while he wasn’t won a Cup Series race yet, it’s only a matter of time. He’s in the Round of 8 and competing for a spot in the championship race, and he has improved and been near the top throughout most of the playoff races.
Hamlin has since apologized for the incident, and he said on Twitter following the race that it was the first time he had ever spun out the leader.
Both Hamlin and Elliott have two races left in the Round of 8 to qualify for the championship race. It’s possible neither makes it, but it will be fascinating to see if Elliott retaliates in the next two races — something his crew chief has already hinted at.
Elliott might choose to spin Hamlin out, but perhaps the better retaliation would be if Elliott just beat Hamlin straight up and advanced to the championship race.
Their feud added another layer of intrigue to the last few races of the season, and those two will be worth monitoring on Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.