By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – A crash that mirrored an incident from Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year just before halfway in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 left Denny Hamlin calling for Chase Elliott’s suspension.
While battling for position just inside the top-10 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Elliott and Hamlin slammed doors on the backstretch. Exiting Turn 4, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver got tight and squeezed his Hendrick Motorsports competitor into the outside wall. Once Elliott regained control of his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, he turned left, into Hamlin’s right rear.
The contact sent the No. 11 SportClips Haircuts Toyota Camry head on into the outside wall. It also ended the day for Elliott and collected Brad Keselowski, who received minor damage.
The incident was similar to one between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson in the Las Vegas Playoff race last year. After getting squeezed into the wall, Wallace retaliated and hooked Larson in the right rear quarter panel. The wreck collected Christopher Bell. NASCAR Cup Series officials ultimately parked Wallace for the following week’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin equated the two incidents, calling for the 2020 Cup Series champion to be parked.
“I squeezed him off of turn four and then he right-rear hooked down the straightaway,” Hamlin said. “It’s exactly the same as Bubba and Larson last year. He shouldn’t be racing (next week).
“We were three-wide off of Turn 2 made contact, then he door-slammed down the backstretch. I definitely squeezed him. We could have made it another lap.”
Elliott, meanwhile, focused on the performance deficit that the NASCAR Next Gen cars have ones the right side of the car is damaged or destroyed. Later in the 600-mile race Aric Almirola tagged the outside wall and plummeted down the running order. Wallace also tagged the outside wall, as did his teammate Tyler Reddick, and the 23XI Racing duo, that Hamlin co-owns, finished fourth and fifth respectively.
“The No. 11 ran us up into the fence there,” Elliott said. “Once you tear the right-side off these things, it’s kind of over. I hate it, thought our No. 9 NAPA Chevy was getting better. It was nice to be making some gains there throughout the race. Our pit stops were really good.
“We had some pretty good fortune to get up towards the front there. It was just trying to get to mile 600 and have a shot, so unfortunately failed to do that again. Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore. Just unfortunate circumstances.”
NASCAR officials stated that the incident would be reviewed later in the week. Any potential penalties for Elliott would be announced at a later date.
Hamlin is already locked into the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by virtue of his win at Kansas Speedway. While the incident doesn’t affect his eligibility for the playoffs, the effect of missing Stage points and a better finish could affect where Hamlin finishes in the regular season. He dropped from fourth to eighth in the points standings after finishing 35th.
Elliott, however, has to win or gain enough points to reach 16th missed six races after breaking his leg snowboarding in March. NASCAR granted him a waiver to keep him eligible for the playoffs.
Elliott finished 34th and dropped to 29th in the points standings. He is 69-points below the playoff cutline, currently held by his teammate, Alex Bowman.
Next for the NASCAR Cup Series is the Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Sunday, June 4 at 3:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.