CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott for one race on Tuesday, less than one day after the five-time most popular driver and former Cup champion deliberately wrecked Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.
Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement it will not appeal the suspension and Corey Lajoie will replace Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet this weekend at Gateway, outside of St. Louis.
“We understand NASCAR’s need to maintain consistency in its officiating,” Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement.
Elliott denied deliberately crashing Hamlin with a dangerous left hook into Hamlin’s car during the rain-rescheduled race Monday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin owns the car driven by Bubba Wallace, who was suspended one race last year for deliberately hooking Kyle Larson in a race in Las Vegas. The move is considered one of the most dangerous in NASCAR.
NASCAR suspended Elliott under a section of rulebook covered under “Member Code of Conduct.” Among the rules covered in that section is “removing another competitor from championship contention in a dangerous manner when not racing for position based on the available evidence and specific circumstances of the incident.”
“It was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion in our view after reviewing all of the available resources,” said NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer on Sirius NASCAR Radio.
Hamlin said he was so furious after the wreck he wanted to fight Elliott, claiming his counterpart had a “tantrum” on the track and “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable.”
Elliott, the 2020 Cup champion and son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, denied wrecking Hamlin intentionally.
“Once you hit the wall in these things, you can’t drive them anymore,” Elliott said after emerging from the infield care center Monday. “So unfortunately not, no, just an unfortunate circumstance.”
Hamlin on his podcast, “Actions Detrimental,” on Tuesday said the act by Elliott was absolutely deliberate payback for earlier contact between the two.
“There’s no explanation that he could possibly give, which he didn’t have a reason for hanging left. You know he obviously didn’t want to admit it,” Hamlin said.
“I pointed out in the data that I tweeted that once he got into the wall, there was nothing wrong with his car. He’s turned the wheel back straight, like he was going down the straightaway, and you can tell by data whether you’ve got toe link damage or not,” Hamlin continued. “Everyone hits the wall. But he threw a hissy fit and he just hung the left on us in the most dangerous part of the racetrack that you possibly could and it ended my day and his, and in my opinion, he shouldn’t be racing next weekend. Because NASCAR set a precedent last year on this.”
Elliott’s loss could impact TV ratings and attendance this weekend. He is the fan-voted most popular driver in the past five years.
After Elliott broke his leg in a snowboarding incident, the sport’s TV ratings took a nosedive. And when Elliott was deemed healthy enough to race at Martinsville, NASCAR recognized its importance and hurried to promote his return on social media and with commercials.
Because he’d already missed so many races because of his leg injury, Elliott was already in a deep hole to make the playoffs. Elliott was ranked 29th after Saturday night, and the top 16 drivers make the playoff field. A win earns an automatic berth. The suspension marks seven races missed by Elliott.
Elliott will most certainly need to win his first race of the season when he returns from suspension to have any chance at making the playoffs.
Before the suspension was announced Hamlin implored NASCAR to “do the right thing” on his podcast.
“Be consistent here. It’s time to make the right call. There is no excuse you can give,” Hamlin added. “He was going dead straight and then all of a sudden he takes a hard left 120 degrees with the steering wheel. That is not an accident. It is intentional.”
Hamlin called the move immature.
“It is childish and it just (ticks) me off,” Hamlin said. “You have to be better than that. I don’t give a (darn). What goes on in your mind to think that is the right move to make, I don’t know.”
Hamlin also said on his podcast that as a car owner he wants to see Wallace focus on his accomplishments on the track which includes four top-five finishes in the past four races, rather than making news off of it.
Wallace was seen feuding during a rain delay Monday with Aric Almirola, who shoved Wallace before the two were broken up by NASCAR security. A week earlier Wallace received criticism when he used an obscene gesture in a television interview after the All-Star race.
NASCAR did not punish Wallace, saying the incident wasn’t malicious.
“It’s out of style,” Hamlin said of the hand gesture. “Whoever still does it needs to stop. Stop doing it. It’s childish. … It’s just not worth it.”