By: Ashley McCubbin
When NASCAR announced they were going to be running some mid-week events, the opportunity presented itself for the sport to possibly get some extra attention. If rivalries and feuds are the way to doing that, then the process began on Wednesday at Darlington Raceway.
On a late race restart with 26 laps to go, Chase Elliott was making his charge back up to the front after restarting due to seventh as a result of three drivers staying out and losing positions on pit road. As he went to make a move on Denny Hamlin for the lead, Kyle Busch was right on the rear of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet. As they went down the front straightaway, Busch came up slightly, making contact, and sending Elliott into the inside wall.
Busch admitted post-race he made a mistake, saying he misjudged the gap between Elliott and Kevin Harvick to try and get in line.
“I knew he was there and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could and in doing so, I watched him and his momentum as he was going by me,” Busch recalled. “I tried to look up in my mirror and see where (Kevin) Harvick was to get in and I just misjudged and made a mistake and clipped the 9 there and spun him into the wall.”
Elliott did not take too kindly to the contact from his fellow competitor, flipping him the bird as Busch drove by where the No. 9 Chevrolet came to rest on pit road. The frustrated spewed over to pit road, with Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson trading words with Busch once the race was called due to rain.
Busch is very familiar with Gustafson, as the pair worked together for three years at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I hate it for him and his guys,” Busch commented. “I have too many friends over there on that team to do anything like that on purpose. I’ve raced Chase since he was a kid and never had any issues with him whatsoever. It was just a bad mistake on my part and I’ll just have to deal with it later on.”
Despite no ill-will behind the contact, Busch recognizes that there will probably be “re-precautions for it,” and the pair aren’t “going to have ice cream tomorrow.”
For his part, Gustafson understands that Busch made a mistake, but still wanted to have his opinion shared.
“I don’t think he intentionally wrecked us, but you just get tired of coming out on the wrong end of those deals too often,” he commented. “I certainly feel like we were in position to win that race. Denny (Hamlin) was in trouble on old tires and we were going to clear Kyle. You get tired of getting ran over like that. His explanation I’m sure is accurate, but it doesn’t change it. All these guys work their tails off on this NAPA Chevy and they deserve to win a race.”
Although Elliott and Gustafson were angry with Busch for the contact, it could easily be say their frustrations are heightened due to a lack of victories this season despite being close on a couple cases. They were fast in the Daytona 500 until being involved in a couple incidents, while a pit crew issue took them out of contention at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Elliott easily could have scored the victory at Phoenix Raceway as well, but contact with Brad Keselowski on a late-race restart resulted in a seventh-place finish instead. There was frustration that day on the radio, too, with both crew chief and driver wanting to get back to the No. 2 Ford for revenge.
If the speed continues to be shown by Hendrick Motorsports as they have since the season opener, it’d be no surprise to see Elliott in victory lane very soon. Though for now, the only thing on Elliott’s mind tonight will be the contact with Busch, and the rain ending the race shortly thereafter. What could’ve been if it started pouring just a couple laps prior?
Once the dust settles and tempers calm down, Busch does intend to reach out to Elliott with an apology.
“Him and I have always had a cordial relationship over the years. Certainly we’re not near as close, we’re not friends like you’d say him and Blaney are or anything like that,” Busch commented. “I’ve known him since he was 12 or 13 years old, been racing with him ever since then, late models, super late models, trucks, Xfinity cars, all that sort of stuff.
“Obviously I just made a mistake, misjudged the gap, sent him into the wall. That was entirely unintentional. Yeah, I mean, I’ll definitely reach out to him and tell him I’m sorry, tell him I hate it that it happened. All I can do. That doesn’t change the outcome of the night. I hate it for him and his guys, yeah.”
NASCAR has stated that they will not penalize for Elliott for the gesture he made after the incident. Busch did not see the gesture, but stated that he thought NASCAR “had protocols where we’re not supposed to do that.” Although the rule states a driver cannot cross onto the racing surface, Elliott did not cross onto the ‘hot track’ due to keeping below the yellow line.
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