When Denny Hamlin wrecked Chase Elliott at Martinsville, Hamlin was met with a chorus of boos from fans. When Elliott retaliated and wrecked Hamlin two weeks later, most fans took Elliott’s side.
Both drivers basically did the same thing to each other, but Elliott is a fan favorite, while Hamlin isn’t necessarily one of the most well-liked drivers in the sport.
Yahoo Sports NASCAR analyst Nick Bromberg wrote a column about the back-and-forth between Elliott and Hamlin, and he argued that if Hamlin was the bad guy for his actions, then Elliott should also be the bad guy for wrecking Hamlin.
Bromberg said if the roles were reversed, fans would have reacted much differently.
“Racing etiquette can be a tricky thing,” Bromberg said. “Especially the the small-sample size that is NASCAR’s playoff system. As drivers jockey to advance from three-race rounds the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable on the racetrack are always being discovered. And, typically, the findings of right and wrong have more to do with the drivers involved than the actions on the track.
“If the roles were reversed at Martinsville or a polarizing driver like Kyle Busch or Joey Logano was spun into the wall or Junior played the role of the aggressor, the sympathy for the aggrieved would’ve been far more muted.”
The point about Earnhardt being the aggressor and Busch or Logano being the victim is fascinating. It’s impossible to imagine fans reacting the same way if someone like Dale Jr. or Elliott had initially wrecked someone in that moment.
Fans are more likely to be forgiving if it’s a driver they love who wrecked another driver. But if it’s a driver they don’t like who committed an act they don’t approve of? Well, then there’s anger from the fans, and there’s a target on the back of the offending driver.
Elliott certainly had the right to retaliate, but Bromberg is right in pointing out that both drivers were in the wrong for their actions. Yet, Elliott was celebrated. Hamlin was booed. Do you think Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have been booed had he done the same thing to Kyle Busch as Hamlin did to Elliott? Not a chance.
It’s an interesting point to think about heading into the offseason. The Hamlin-Elliott rivalry will be worth monitoring next season as Elliott’s popularity continues to grow.