Chase Elliott laughed when he was asked if contact with Denny Hamlin Sunday at the Phoenix International Raceway was a payback for their troubles Oct. 29 at the Martinsville Speedway.
But without saying a word, his message was delivered.
Hamlin cost Elliott an opportunity to advance to NASCAR’s Final Four at Martinsville when he intentionally drove him out of the lead and into the wall with less than three laps remaining in regulation.
A victory would have given Elliott an automatic berth into Sunday’s winner-take-all race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After leading a race-best 193 laps at Phoenix two weeks later, Hamlin’s hopes of getting the final spot on the playoffs ended when Elliott sideswiped him coming off the fourth turn.
While Elliott chuckled, the crowded cheered wildly and Hamlin suggested their growing feud won’t end anytime soon. To make it worse. Hamlin didn’t get any sympathy.
“I mean, each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances, so, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing,” Hamlin said. “I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.
“We’re just going to keep racing as hard as we can every week and try to go out there and win Homestead and make sure our competition doesn’t.”
Elliott, 21, finished second to Matt Kenseth and was eliminated from the playoffs. Hamlin finished 35th and in the garage. He, too, will be a spectator during Sunday’s championship race between Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
While Elliott’s retribution wasn’t nearly as blatant as Hamlin’s, the son of 1988 series champion of Bill Elliott can’t win the championship this year, he delivered an important message to the rest of the veterans in the garage area: The current crop of younger drivers won’t be pushed around.
“I think there is a little bit of hazing just like any sport or series when you come in and you are a rookie,” said 23-year-old Ryan Blaney. “I do believe we have to stand up for ourselves and not get shoved around. There is a respect you have to show. I respect really every one of the drivers we are racing against right now but you can’t get pushed around. It isn’t going to stop if you let it happen. You have to be respectful but at the same time you have to stand up for yourself.”
For Elliott, that means giving as much as he takes.
“A wise man (presumably his father) once told me that he’ll race guys how they race him with a smile on his face, so that’s what I did (Sunday),” he said.
“I raced him how he raced me, and that’s the way I saw it. That’s about all I have to say.”
Even after saying he didn’t consider Sunday’s run-in with Elliott as retaliation, all Hamlin could do is suffer the consequences.
“We got ran into the fence by the 24 (Elliott) when we running up front all day,” Hamlin said. “We had a bad pit stop and then we didn’t really make any adjustments. Our car got really tight and we were just battling all we could to keep our track position. We weren’t, and we allowed our competition to get close to us.”
Elliott now has seven runner-up finishes — and he still remains winless at the Cup level. After losing a possible race victory at Martinsville and coming up one position short at Phoenix, Elliott is torn whether he was more disappointed by not winning yet or qualifying for the championship.
“I mean, I don’t know how you pick,” he said. “You know, when one means that you have an opportunity to do the other, then I’m not sure how you differentiate the two.
“I don’t know, just very disappointing, and I just hate that — I just hate so bad for my team. They’ve been so close to winning a handful of races the past couple years, and just, like I told them after the race, at some point I’ve got to figure out how to close better, and I take responsibility for that.
“I felt like I gave it my all (at Phoenix), and we’ll try to go to Homestead (this) week, finish the season as strong as we can and then get ready to come at them next year as hard as possible.”