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.
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.
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
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