Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Was Chase Elliott Suspension the Right Call by NASCAR?

Following an incident during Monday’s (May 29) Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott received a one-race suspension from NASCAR under the sanctioning body’s behavior standards for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin.

Elliott will sit out this coming weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway while Corey Lajoie races his No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Fans were divided on social media, with some saying the penalty was justified while others said NASCAR went too far and the incident wasn’t Elliott’s fault.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Does Parking Chase Elliott Accomplish Anything?

Did NASCAR make the right decision in penalizing Elliott, or did the punishment go too far? Frontstretch‘s Amy Henderson and Steve Leffew take a closer look at the incident and its aftermath.

NASCAR Had No Choice … & It Was the Right Call Anyway

NASCAR had no choice.

And if they had? They made the right one.

If you missed it, during Monday’s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600, on lap 186, Hamlin pinched Elliott into a narrow top lane, and when Elliott couldn’t hold onto the No. 9, he smacked the wall. Elliott straightened it out — and then turned hard left into Hamlin’s right-rear quarter panel, hooking the No. 11 and sending him straight into the wall. Hamlin’s No. 11 suffered heavy front-end damage, but fortunately Hamlin was uninjured.

Hamlin immediately called for Elliott to be suspended by NASCAR, feeling that the move was intentional. 

That certainly looked at the time to be the case. Many fans pointed to contact from Brad Keselowski turning Elliott into Hamlin, but the No. 9 was turning left before contact from the No. 6 (The first sentence of the Tweet reflects only the poster’s opinion, not that of this writer, but the photo is pretty clear on what was going on on track).

Not only was Hamlin angry (and probably shaken) by the incident, but he had some experience with NASCAR’s previous stance on the matter. Last fall, driving a car Hamlin owns, Bubba Wallace intentionally turned Kyle Larson after a similar incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wallace had to chase Larson further down the track to turn him, but the move — a right-rear hook — and the outcome were the same. 

NASCAR suspended Wallace for the move, and in doing so, set the precedent they had no choice but to follow after Elliott spun Hamlin. 

But even if the sanctioning body had not been backed into a corner with the Wallace penalty, they made absolutely the right call. Though it was still a bit of a surprise, because if Elliott is NASCAR’s Golden Boy, Hamlin is its Whipping Boy.

Many would have expected them to find a way to suspend Hamlin for Elliott’s move, or whoever found the damning telemetry data that made Hamlin’s case a slam dunk, or to find a way to blame Ross Chastain. But integrity won out.

Drivers may not agree on much, but one thing has been almost sacred: you don’t intentionally hook a driver in the right rear. Ever. A right-rear hook doesn’t get another driver loose and it doesn’t move him out of the way; it wrecks him. Sometimes it happens unintentionally, but it’s perhaps the most adhered-to bit of drivers’ code.

It’s a dirty move any way you slice it … and at a high-speed oval like Charlotte, it’s also dangerous. 

In the 2001 Easycare Vehicle Services Contracts 100 ARCA Menards Series event at Charlotte on Oct. 4, 2001, Blaise Alexander was racing Kerry Earnhardt for what would be the race win, though it wasn’t a victory to celebrate. Alexander had a run to Earnhardt’s inside with five laps to go when the two made contact. It was unintentional, but Earnhardt’s nose touched Alexander’s right rear quarter and sent him hard into the frontstretch wall.

The pair spun across the line, Earnhardt in front, on his roof, before coming to a stop. Alexander’s car stopped in the tri-oval grass, Earnhardt’s, briefly on fire, at the exit from pit road. Earnhardt’s crash looked worse; there was relief when he climbed from his car, shaky though he might have been.

Alexander wasn’t so lucky. In the days before SAFER barriers lined racetracks, a head-on crash in a series that didn’t yet mandate head and neck restraints spelled tragedy. Alexander died instantly of a basilar skull fracture.

And Hamlin’s crash looked so similar to Alexander’s it’s eerie. The tracks and cars are safer now, and Hamlin was fine … but he might not have been. That he was turned intentionally into that situation is unconscionable. 

Did Elliott mean to hurt Hamlin? No, of course not. But the fact remains he could have. It could have been so, so much worse. And because of that, NASCAR made the right call.

The only call they will likely not get right is allowing Elliott a playoff waiver following his suspension. That hasn’t happened yet, but likely will, as NASCAR has given waivers to suspended drivers in both the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series in recent years.

A suspended driver in any series should not receive that waiver, because it makes a suspension, which should be a major penalty, into a minor one. Taking away a chance at a title would act as a real deterrent.

Still, the suspension is absolutely deserved. Racing is a dangerous sport. Drivers have no reason to make it more so. 

And let’s be clear here: safety isn’t a popularity contest. — Amy Henderson

NASCAR Went Too Far

This was a flawed decision by NASCAR, and Elliott should not have been suspended.

First, we need to talk about what actually happened in the race. NASCAR’s most popular driver had just been driven into the turn 4 wall by Hamlin.

Within two seconds of his impact, Elliott attempted to gather up his wounded car and turn left for the dogleg. He also had the No. 6 of Keselowski closing at a rapid pace. After appearing to initially gather himself up, the forces in motion brought together the three cars of Elliott, Hamlin and Keselowski. 

What resulted was contact between Elliott’s left-front and Hamlin’s right-rear, sending the No. 11 Toyota Camry of Hamlin hard into the outside SAFER barrier. It was a high-speed and ugly collision that Hamlin was fortunate to walk away from. Kudos to NASCAR for the safety improvements. 

Now that we’ve covered the incidental nature of the crash, lets look into NASCAR’s reasoning for the suspension. They claim Elliott violated sections 4.3.A and 4.4.C & D of the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct.

4.3.A is really a cop out because it is so generic, it could be applied to anything. It reads: “correct and proper conduct, both on and off the track, is part of a member’s responsibilities”. OK, so isn’t it proper to race hard for position as you approach the end of a stage? Isn’t that what stage racing was implemented to induce?

4.4.C lists “removing another competitor from championship contention in a dangerous manner when not racing for position based on the available evidence and specific circumstances of the incident.”

The Matt Kenseth rule. You may recall Kenseth being several laps down and wrecking Joey Logano as a retaliation for a prior incident. Notice the reference to championship contention. This wreck had very little if any impact on Hamlin’s championship contention with the current points system.

Finally, 4.4.D lists the trusty old reliable, “actions by a NASCAR member that NASCAR finds detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.” Tell me, was this crash detrimental to NASCAR? Were the press and radio waves completely lit up with comments and calls on this topic? Has interest in the sport increased because of it? So where is the detriment?

NASCAR’s own reasoning does not give proper basis for the suspension. If they want to change the rules as they go, be my guest. It’s their show. But these rules don’t justify the suspension. 

The next angle is that because NASCAR suspended Wallace last year for his incident with Larson, they simply had to suspend Elliott, because consistency. If you think the incident between Wallace and Larson was the same as this one, go back and watch the tape. They are not the same.

Wallace and Larson could’ve fit my left leg in between their cars before and while Wallace hit the wall. Larson did not make any contact with him. 

Wallace then proceeded to hang a hard left all the way across the track, down to the apron, to hook Larson. But wait, there’s more! Next, Wallace strutted down the frontstretch over the Larson’s car and shoved Larson five times after he had just sent him into a vicious driver’s side impact.

See also
Bubba Wallace Tangles with Aric Almirola, Surges to 4th

Elliott’s move into Hamlin was much less pronounced and had the added factor of Keselowski. Elliott made no physical altercation and denied intent. 

Even if you believe the Dawsonville, Ga., native wrecked Hamlin in retaliatory fashion, does the punishment of a suspension fit the crime? Does it accomplish anything? If NASCAR wanted to actually levy some punitive damages against Elliott and his team, they would issue driver and owner points penalties. 

With 12 races remaining until the playoffs, Elliott sits 29th after missing time with an injury. He is 81 points out of the cutoff, heading into a stretch with some of his strongest tracks. The No. 9 team is 16th in the owner standings.

Missing Gateway will effectively issue a de facto penalty of about 35 points. NASCAR could’ve forgone the suspension and given the entire team something consequential, with a significant monetary fine and points penalty. 

If punishment and deterrence is what they sought, sending multimillionaire Chase Elliott on a few days’ vacation will accomplish a lot less than hitting him in the points would have. 

Elliott’s impact with Hamlin happened within two seconds of a right-side impact with the wall. Keselowski’s car (or the air around it) may have played a role, and Elliott had to turn left to make the dogleg with his wounded car. The rulebook violations don’t clearly apply to what happened. The incident is far too different from the Wallace precedent its being compared to.

And even if the crash was a retaliation, the suspension is not a fitting punishment for the alleged crime. Elliott should be racing at WWTR. — Steve Leffew

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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Matty

Elliott could wreck Hamlin another three times and it still wouldn’t make up for the plow job that Denny put on Chase a few years back at Martinsville….denying Chase his first-ever Cup victory.

Dawg

Here’s my question.

Does Elliott deserve a second exemption from NASCAR for the playoffs?

With Wallace it really wasn’t an issue, but in this case it is.

Make no mistake, he will get it, NASCAR always seems to play favorites. And their most popular driver, & a Hendrick driver, is a slam dunk.

But is it warranted?

The answer would seem to be, how strong a message do they really want to send?

Steve C

If Elliots move was intentional, any rational person could understand it, as prima Dona Denny has a long history of being jealous of anything Hendrick. Go back and look at his rough driving/ unnecessary agression with Hendrick drivers, not to mention his snide passive agressive comments and jabs he gets in at every opportunity. There’s a reason for all of the boos for him. He thinks he’s the only one that should be able to drive agressive & show all of us his “skills”. What a asshat.

Bill H

First of all, Hamlin is a pot calling a kettle black. He has wrecked more cars than Elliott has ever even been mad at.

Second, NASCAR should not be issuing penalties based on another driver’s demands that they do so. Nor should one driver demand than another driver be penalized. It’s not one driver’s business what NASCAR does vis a vis another driver.

Third, consistency? When has NASCAR ever been known for or showed any sign that it cared about consistency?

Kevin in SoCal

NASCAR made their decision irregardless of Denny’s input.

Bill B

And how do you know that?

Kevin in SoCal

Well, I don’t know for sure, but as quickly as he was suspended, I have to believe it was on their radar already.
Elliott bounced off the wall, straightened out, and THEN turned left into Hamlin.

RCFX1

Is Hamlin now the Director of Competition for Nascar? He seems to have the loudest opinion when it comes to anything that happens on the track. Then last night he had access to the data from both cars?

Iceman202290

Everyone has access to everyones data and they have it live during the race. A crew chief can tell their driver how another driver is attacking a corner from point of entry, brake %, brake point, throttle % and so on….I personally dislike it.

goblue

sorry st louis not coming down and spending my money.

Dave

And no one else should either! Maybe we needed to get back at Hendrick?

Bill B

I have no problem with the call, AS LONG AS THAT IS THE NEW STANDARD.

What I didn’t like was the fact that it felt like Hamlin “The Douche'” was quick to compare it to the Bubba deal. By doing that he forced NASCAR to levy the same penalty because they didn’t want to deal with the optics of penalizing the black driver and not the white driver. The two incidents were not identical but both involved purposely wrecking another driver.

As I said before, I am more of a Denny hater than an Elliott lover. So for my money it was totally worth it to see Hamlin get a come-upence for having done similar things his whole career (without being suspended). I hope this comes back to bite him in the ass at the worst possible time.

As for Elliott he should just forget about this year and just make sure he keeps screwing with Hamlin for the rest of the year. Block him, run him into the wall, brake check him, block him in the pits, kick him in the nuts, whatever it takes.

Last edited 11 months ago by Bill B
Echo

lololol I totally agree and think Rick should make that Chases assignment for the rest of the year. I think most drivers would enjoy that very much.

Bill H

Indeed. I would love it. Just write off the season and focus on beating up on Hamlin.

Charlie G

Hamlin is a jerk! I not only will not watch a NASCAR race while Chase Elliott is suspended or laid up but I will also not use FedEx for my company’s shipping as long as they sponsor a turd like Hamlin who has gotten away with so many infractions that he knows NASCAR is not going to do anything to him.

Iceman202290

They do though. He has been fined and lost points in the past. He has drove some guys very dirty for sure but that doesnt deserves getting right hooked into the wall. Hes lucky he didnt break his back for a second time with that hit. It was a dirty douche move by Chase, the same move everyone ripped Bubba about. It’s funny how different peoples opinions are based on their bias (see # of thumbs down below due to Chase and Bubba comparison in a week). I became a non fan of Chase after he got away manipulating the outcome of a race. Besides he is so whiney, but then again, all the drivers are anymore. They are either boring or whiny. No fan of Hamlin either cause he runs guys up the track all the time yet whines the first time someone does it to him. As for not using FedEx, doubt they’ll feel that but we all have to put our vote in some way. Imo Ross and Larson are the only 2 out there who really race hard and dont get out of the car when wrecked due to a racing incident and whine about it. Need more of that.

BuddyC

If it was intentional then Chase should be suspended. But if that is the rule. Why was not the wreck on the last lap in Kanas three weeks ago not intentional? Last lap Denny put Kyle Larson in back stretch wall. He clipped him after Kyle passed Denny. Was that intentional? The rule is the rule?

Iceman202290

Did he right fender hook him and send him head on into the outside wall? Let’s not go making every racing incident a call for suspension now. If Chase got back to Hamlin and drove him up the track in turn 1 he would not have been suspended. Just cant right fender a guy like that in retaliation.

Pks

Hamlin is a DB who believes himself immune from all his bad driving actions. Reality is he is now the most hated driver in nascar and has screwed himself and team out of any level of respect. He won this battle but lost the war…..

Iceman202290

Pump the brakes
Last time I heard that quote, that driver lost both that battle and the war.

Gus Palmer

So sick of hearing Danny Hamlin cry. He wants to drive over, or through, anyone he wants but no one is supposed to touch him. He’s NASCARS whipping boy, he’s NASCARS WHIINING boy!

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