DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin had a personalized smile embroidered across the front of his mask following his Toyota 500 victory Wednesday at Darlington Raceway.
There was no smile to be found on Chase Elliott’s face – or Kyle Busch’s either for that matter.
The duo was involved in a late-race incident that added another layer to NASCAR’s first midweek race in more than 30 years, and could have a ripple effect for the rest of the season.
With less than 30 laps to go and both drivers in the top three, Elliott passed Busch on the outside of the straight right at the start/finish line. Busch tried to insert himself behind Elliott and in front of Kevin Harvick, but clipped the left rear of Elliott’s car and spun him across the track and into a pit wall to end his night.
“I made a mistake and just misjudged the gap,” Busch said on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast following the race. “We were racing there with the (No.) 11 and the (No. 9) had a run on him and I knew (Elliott) was there and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could. I watched him and in doing so, I watched him and his momentum that was going by me and then I tried to look up in the mirror and see where (Kevin) Harvick was to get in and I just misjudged it.
“I made a mistake and clipped the (No.) 9 there and spun him into the wall.”
The caution flag came out and with 20 laps to go, the race was called due to rain with Busch finishing as runner-up to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate while Elliott fell all the way to 38th.
Harvick, who was right behind Elliott when Busch attempted to maneuver his way behind him, saw it as a miscalculation on Busch’s part as well.
“You know you just wanted to get back in line so quick,” he said. “Kyle was on the bottom and you’ve got a hole between myself and Chase and I’m sure he had one eye on the mirror and glanced forward and it looked to me like he just completely misjudged it and got the (No.) 9.”
Elliott was not injured, but was understandably upset. He got out of his car and stayed on the track long enough to raise his middle finger to Busch as he came back around.
Elliott's crew chief Alan Gustafson – who was Busch’s crew chief at one time – had a heated conversation with his former teammate following the race.
“They’re upset,” Busch said following the meeting. “They’re mad. I’m not just gonna fix it and we’re gonna sit and have ice cream tomorrow. Obviously they’re gonna have to dwell on it, and the repercussions of it I’m sure I’m gonna have later on down the road.”
Even so, Busch intends to make contact with Elliott, who he’s always had a good relationship with, he said.
“I’m certainly going to reach out,” he said. “Him and I have always had a cordial relationship over the years. Certainly we’re not near as close – we’re not friends like you’d say him and (Ryan) Blaney are or anything like that, but I’ve known him since he was 12, 13 years old and been racing with him ever since then in Late Models and Super Late Models, trucks and Xfinity and all that sort of stuff.”