The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, May 22, 2020 1:00 am

New Cup rivalry heats up

Elliott angry after Busch wrecks him

JENNA FRYER | Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kyle Busch is NASCAR's reigning Cup champion and the resident villain of the series. Chase Elliott has been voted most popular driver the last two years and is quickly building a loyal and rabid fan base.

Their on-track tussle at Darlington Raceway this week might be the start of a new rivalry NASCAR needs.

Busch admittedly misjudged a gap and unintentionally wrecked Elliott in what turned out to be the final green-flag lap of Wednesday night's race. Elliott crashed, climbed out of his car, waved off medical personnel and waited on the apron for Busch to circle the track under caution.

As Busch passed, Elliott gave him a long, middle-finger salute.

The tension didn't end there. Rain opened up moments after the crash, and drivers were told to drive to pit road. When Busch parked, a group of Elliott's team members stared him down.

Among them was Elliott crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was Busch's crew chief when Busch drove for Hendrick Motorsports early in his career. Busch was informed over his radio he had a welcoming committee waiting for him, and one of his own Joe Gibbs Racing crew members sat on the wall next to Gustafson as a de facto bodyguard.

A NASCAR official eventually told all the mask-clad crewmen to get back over the wall, the race was called because of rain and Busch appeared to have a civil discussion with Gustafson.

Busch did not rule out retaliation from Elliott down the road.

“Him and I have always had a cordial relationship over the years,” Busch said. “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.

“I just made a mistake, misjudged the gap, sent him into the wall. That was entirely unintentional. I'll definitely reach out to him and tell him I'm sorry, tell him I hate it that it happened.”

Elliott had no comment and there is limited media availability to drivers under NASCAR's health protocols. 

Denny Hamlin, Busch's teammate, said Thursday that Busch handled the fallout “the best he possibly could. He owned up to it and he knew he made a mistake.”

Hamlin also noted he'd been cut off twice by Elliott in the two Darlington races and chalked up the aggressiveness to drivers pushing hard after the layoff.

“If Chase were to retaliate, you know that's intentional, right? We all know it's intentional,” Hamlin said. “What Kyle did was unintentional. Is the score really even if one is intentional and one is not? Probably not.”

Elliott was wrecked by Hamlin racing for a win at Martinsville in a 2017 playoff race that led to a heated conversation.

Gustafson said he understood Busch'sexplanation, but the apology probably would not immediately calm emotions. The Hendrick team believes Elliott was racing for the victory when he was wrecked by Hamlin's teammate.

“I don't think he intentionally wrecked us, but you just get tired of coming out on the wrong end of those deals,” Gustafson said. “We were in position to win that race and Denny was in trouble on old tires. You get tired of getting run over like that.” 

As much as NASCAR needs strong rivalries, and this has the makings for a good one, Hamlin wasn't sure retaliation from Elliott would be the smartest move.

“If Chase doesn't retaliate, no driver thinks any less of him,” Hamlin said. “If he does, then that raises your eyebrow more than what Kyle did, in my opinion.”

Toyota 500

Thursday

At Darlington Raceway, Darlington, S.C.

Lap length: 1.37 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (16) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 208 laps, 47 points.

2. (26) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 208, 35.

3. (20) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 208, 40.

4. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 208, 33.

5. (13) Erik Jones, Toyota, 208, 39.

6. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 208, 39.

7. (9) Aric Almirola, Ford, 208, 35.

8. (37) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 208, 29.

9. (7) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 208, 29.

10. (15) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 208, 44.

11. (24) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 208, 26.

12. (34) William Byron, Chevrolet, 208, 30.

13. (14) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 208, 24.

14. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 208, 23.

15. (18) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 208, 22.

16. (21) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 208, 21.

17. (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 208, 20.

18. (19) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 208, 29.

19. (2) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 208, 18.

20. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 208, 17.

21. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 208, 24.

22. (4) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 208, 35.

23. (32) Chris Buescher, Ford, 208, 14.

24. (31) Corey Lajoie, Ford, 207, 13.

25. (39) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 207, 12.

26. (35) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 207, 11.

27. (25) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 207, 10.

28. (29) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 207, 0.

29. (30) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 207, 0.

30. (11) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 206, 9.

31. (22) Cole Custer, Ford, 206, 6.

32. (28) Gray Gaulding, Ford, 206, 5.

33. (33) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 204, 0.

34. (36) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 204, 3.

35. (12) John H. Nemechek, Ford, 202, 2.

36. (38) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 202, 0.

37. (27) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, transmission, 201, 1.

38. (17) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, accident, 200, 14.

39. (1) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, engine, 69, 2.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 106.085 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 42 minutes, 23 seconds.

Margin of Victory: Caution seconds.

Caution Flags: 11 for 54 laps.

Lead Changes: 17 among 14 drivers.

Lap Leaders: R.Preece 0; T.Dillon 1-8; J.Logano 9-27; B.Wallace 28-30; C.Bowyer 31-83; M.Truex 84-99; K.Harvick 100-109; D.Suarez 110; C.Bowyer 111-128; R.Newman 129-133; E.Jones 134-160; C.Elliott 161-175; B.Keselowski 176-181; B.Poole 182; C.Elliott 183-190; B.Keselowski 191; C.Elliott 192-196; D.Hamlin 197-208

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): C.Bowyer, 2 times for 71 laps; C.Elliott, 3 times for 28 laps; E.Jones, 1 time for 27 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 19 laps; M.Truex, 1 time for 16 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 12 laps; K.Harvick, 1 time for 10 laps; T.Dillon, 1 time for 8 laps; B.Keselowski, 2 times for 7 laps; R.Newman, 1 time for 5 laps; B.Wallace, 1 time for 3 laps; D.Suarez, 1 time for 1 lap; B.Poole, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Preece, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Logano, 2; D.Hamlin, 2; K.Harvick, 1; A.Bowman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Harvick, 258; 2. J.Logano, 224; 3. A.Bowman, 219; 4. D.Hamlin, 201; 5. C.Elliott, 192; 6. B.Keselowski, 191; 7. A.Almirola, 186; 8. M.Truex, 179; 9. M.DiBenedetto, 170; 10. C.Bowyer, 170; 11. R.Blaney, 168; 12. J.Johnson, 161; 13. Ky.Busch, 157; 14. Ku.Busch, 151; 15. E.Jones, 146; 16. W.Byron, 129.


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