Chase Elliott appeared headed for his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday at Martinsville Speedway when the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin nudged Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet from behind with three laps remaining, spinning Elliott’s car and dimming his hopes of advancing in the NASCAR Playoffs.
Elliott had been battling the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski for the lead for most of the final 100 laps of the First Data 500, and Elliott took the edge on Lap 497 of a scheduled 500 as Keselowski dropped in traffic.
That was when a hard-charging Hamlin drove right up to the rear bumper of Elliott’s No. 24, initiating contact that caused the No. 24 to spin.
Elliott’s car sustained enough damage that he was forced to drop far back in the field as the race went to overtime. He would finish 27th.
After the race ended, after cars spun out in a multi-car incident at the checkered flag, Elliott got out of his car and spoke angrily to Hamlin — after he drove the No. 11 up into the outside wall on the cool-down lap.
“I got into the back of him and he spun out,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “Trying to get a race win. … Everybody was doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team. I understand they’ve had a win for a long time coming, but this is for a ticket to Homestead.”
Elliott, for his part, remained angry after the race.
“My mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all,” Elliott told NBCSN. “He’s not even worth my time. … We had a good opportunity. I can’t control his decisions and whatever the hell that was. On to Texas.”
Later, Hamlin issued an apology via Twitter.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) October 30, 2017
The impact for Elliott was monumental. A win would have automatically advanced him to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Instead, he’s now 26 points behind the cutoff line for advancement heading into Texas.