Kyle Busch is the reason Chase Elliott crashed out of Wednesday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway. Busch, admittedly so, inadvertently spun Elliott while battling toward the front and sent the No. 9 Chevrolet into the wall. Busch went on to finish second, while Elliott landed 38th in the final results, coming eight laps short of completing the 208-lap, rain-shortened event.
The two-time NMPA Most Popular Driver will forgive, but he won’t forget.
“I don’t think he did it on purpose,” Elliott said Friday on a Zoom teleconference with reporters. “Again, I hate that I was on the wrong end of a rare mistake on his end. For a guy that doesn’t make many, hate that it was me that took the blow.”
Here’s a refresher on what happened: With 28 scheduled laps to go in the Toyota 500, Elliott was running second behind leader and eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin. Busch was inside next to Elliott, and when Busch tried to get back in line up top, he misjudged the spacing between him and Elliott. Busch’s No. 18 Toyota clipped Elliott’s left rear enough to fully turn the car and send it nose-first into the inside frontstretch wall heading into into Turn 1. The ensuing rain that followed under caution made that the end of the race.
And you cannot forget how Elliott then got out and gave Busch a middle-finger salute as he came back around the track.
“No regrets,” Elliott said. “I thought it was warranted, and I thought he was deserving.”
Busch immediately owned up to his mistake afterward — more than once, too. It was a big enough error, especially for a two-time champion, that the sincerity behind Busch’s apology was questioned, along with whether the move was intentional.
“I really think it depends on the person — how much respect you either had or didn’t have for that person prior to that moment,” Elliott said. “In Kyle’s situation, Kyle and I have gotten along for many years. I feel like I’ve raced him with a lot of respect because I respect him. … To hear that from a champion and a guy who we had raced really hard and clean together over the years, I think goes further than someone I don’t care for as much or somebody who I don’t get along with as well or someone who doesn’t race with that kind of respect or that kind of integrity on track.”
The two will be back on track together in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest race of the season (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). They’ll then both be in Tuesday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 with the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series event (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). And remember the bounty? It may still be a thing, which gives Elliott yet another reason to want to beat Busch — competitive revenge and prize money.
Don’t expect any type of physical post-race altercation after either event, though, considering all of the COVID-19 safety precautions.
“It‘d be kind of hard to fight when you have to stay six feet apart,” Elliott said. “My arms aren‘t long enough.”