Did You Notice?: During the final round of pit stops at Kansas Speedway, there was a tight squeeze on pit road as teams and drivers scrambled to put on fresh rubber for the upcoming two-lap shootout for all the marbles.
The race off pit road was two- and three-wide, but the limits of the pavement couldn’t handle four.
With race winner Tyler Reddick on the outside, Chase Elliott in the middle and Kyle Larson on the inside, Larson had to take evasive action to avoid Brad Keselowski, who had just completed his stop and had pulled alongside the trio.
And by doing so, Larson turned right — right into teammate.
There wasn’t much room, but Elliott let Larson know that he didn’t appreciate the move as they made the slow trek around the apron.
In the final running order, it was Larson in fourth and Elliott in sixth. After the race, Larson apologized of any potential wrongdoing and said that he was doing his best to avoid Keselowski pulling out of his stall.
He also finished by saying that the two would have a better understanding once they both saw a replay.
And sure enough, Elliott cleared the air on SiriusXM later in the week.
He first apologized for his initial frustration given that he didn’t have the full context of what happened. He even went a step further to clarify that the incident was already outdated discussion.
“The bad news is, it’s a non-issue for all of y’all and everyone who wants to talk about it, there’s nothing to talk about,” Elliott said. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I know you guys love your drama, but there’s just none here this week.”
For something that appeared to be a relatively minor run-in — and one that Elliott himself stated was a nothingburger — why did it take center stage in discussion on the Monday and Tuesday (Sept. 11-12) after the race?
Probably because Sunday wasn’t the first time the two have been at odds with each other since becoming teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
The pair went to battle with each other at Auto Club Speedway and Watkins Glen International in 2022, and both races ended with controversy.
At Auto Club, Larson and Joey Logano were battling side-by-side for the lead on the frontstretch as Elliott took them three-wide on the outside with 19 laps to go. Larson went to block and instead put the No. 9 car in the wall.
Larson went on to win the race, while Elliott finished two laps down after repairs. Elliott was furious with Larson over the radio, while Larson apologized and said he did not know the No. 9 car was there when he moved up.
Flash forward to August, and two restarted on the front row with four laps to go at Watkins Glen. Larson went wide and moved Elliott out of the groove in turn 1, and — once again — went on to win while Elliott got the short end of the stick in fourth. Post-race, Larson appeared somewhat subdued in celebration while Elliott avoided answering any questions regarding the contact.
So, the two haven’t had a squeaky-clean past in terms of incidents. But that’s the type of things that will happen when two teammates are striving to be the best drivers in the field.
Larson and Elliott have combined for two of the last three Cup Series championships and 23 wins since the start of 2021. With 100 races under Larson’s belt at HMS, nearly one-fourth of all races in the last three years have been won by the pair.
It’s Larson who currently has the advantage over the two by virtue of going gangbusters in an absurdly dominant 2021 title season, but Elliott rose to the occasion in 2022 with five wins and had established himself prior to Larson’s HMS arrival by winning it all in 2020. And now that William Byron has emerged with a five-win breakout season, that’s three drivers that are vying to be top dog on NASCAR’s winningest team.
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When teammates are consistently battling for the win against each other, there’s bound to be some disagreements and misunderstandings. This time around, the frustration was resolved almost as fast as it sunk in.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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