Chase Elliott wasn’t buying Denny Hamlin’s explanation for wreck

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – As the boos reigned down from the Martinsville Speedway grandstands, Chase Elliott stepped away from an awaiting TV interview and ambled toward the noise.

The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet began waving his arms up and down, beckoning the crowd for more juice – and jeers.

Their target was Southwest Virginia’s sudden Public Enemy No. 1 and driver of the No. 11 Toyota, Denny Hamlin, who was being interviewed on a large videoboard to the great derision of several thousand fans who lingered after the jaw-dropping, car-slamming conclusion of the First Data 500.

“These fans have been coming here for a long time, and they know when someone gets wrecked, and when someone has a nice fight for the lead, and that wasn’t one,” Elliott said. “It was unnecessary.”

Three laps from getting his ticket to the championship round punched, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was punted from the lead entering the third turn on the 0.526-mile oval. Elliott had taken the lead from Brad Keselowski during a restart on Lap 497 of a scheduled 500 laps before the contact with Hamlin, who led the next seven laps before getting moved aside by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on the final lap and taking seventh.

Elliott managed to finish in 27th, but his title chances are win or bust in the next two races at Texas and Phoenix – which is why he rammed Hamlin’s car multiple times on the cooldown lap.

That prompted both drivers to exit their cars and engage in a heated argument on the backstretch (video above) before driving back to the pits for interviews.

“He said somebody was pushing him, but it wasn’t two car lengths between him and the next guy,” Elliott said. “So, my momma always said if you don’t have anything nice (to say), not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas.

“We had a great car today and we had an opportunity. We had a good restart there at the end and felt like I was doing what I needed to do. And I can’t control his decisions and whatever the hell that was.”

Crew chief Alan Gustafson chalked it up to being an incident involving high stakes and the shortest track on the circuit.

“It’s pretty intense,” he said. “A lot on the line, so anything can happen. It’s just racing at Martinsville. A lot on the line. I think we had one of the best cars here and came home with nothing.

“I’m cool with it, but when we have (Hamlin’s) back tires jacked up going into probably (Turn) 3 at Texas … that will be a bigger corner. Then just be good with that, too.”

Elliott again was good enough to break through for his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series. Rebounding from a miserable test at Martinsville two weeks ago, the team brought a new Chevy, and Elliott responded. He qualified third and led 123 laps.

“He’s done an incredible job,” Gustafson said of Elliott. “It’s unfortunate that race wins have eluded us, because I think that’s the only thing we haven’t been able to do this year. We’ve done everything else. I thought he did a great job.”

Elliott had to get rough, too, making contact on his pass of Keselowski (who had taken the outside lane on the restart). Keselowski skidded up the track but held on for fourth.

“The thing we all like about this track is you can race people hard and have contact and not crash them,” Gustafson said. “Look, I know Brad isn’t happy about what Chase did to Brad. I’m sure he’s not. I’m sure the team is not. But at the end of the day, he didn’t wreck him.

“But what can you do? You race as hard as you can. Things happen.”

Elliott said his battle with Keselowski was “as clean as we could race each other … a hard fought battle for the lead,” while with Hamlin “that was not a battle at all. That was just a wreck.”

“What he did was unnecessary,” Elliott said of Hamlin, a five-time winner at Martinsville who later tweeted an apology. “The guy’s been doing this long enough. He’s won a lot of races here. There’s no reason for that. He knows the deal, how this race works, and he knows how Martinsville is.

“I didn’t race him dirty at all. I don’t know what his problem was. What happened in Turn 3 was over the line.”

Results, point standings after second Xfinity race at Kentucky

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Austin Cindric dominated to win Friday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, leading 130 of 200 laps.

He completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races at the 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the results.

Check back for the point standings.

Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton fight after Xfinity race

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Noah Gragson punched Harrison Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson and Burton were battling for fourth on Lap 188 of the 200-lap race when Gragson, on in the inside of Burton, drifted up the track into Burton’s car. Both cars hit the wall. There was no caution and both fell back. Gragson finished seventh. Burton finished 12th. Austin Cindric won for the second consecutive night.

FS1 cameras caught Burton and Gragson having a discussion after the race. The cameras caught Burton pushing Gragson away. They continued to talk when Burton shoved Gragson again and Gragson punched Burton. Crew members jumped in. NASCAR officials broke up the fight.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that series officials spoke with both drivers and that no penalties are anticipated.

Burton told FS1: “Just frustrated. That’s two times since we’ve come back after the COVID-19 pandemic on restarts, same situation. We rallied all night to get … (into) fourth place and (Gragson) happens to start in third and just, I don’t know, forgets what racetrack we’re at or what. Both times puts us in the fence, Charlotte and now here. I had a lot of people coming up to me afterwards saying that was a long time coming, so I guess that was a popular move. But honestly, it’s about these guys that work on these racecars and give me fast racecars.”

Gragson told FS1: “This track is so much about track position and restarts. … We’ll go on to Texas and rebound.”

FS1’s Jamie Little told Gragson that Burton noted their incident at Charlotte and asked if he saw what happened Friday coming: “Not really. We’re all racing hard. Us teammates are beating and banging for the finishes at the end and whatnot. I really don’t have a comment.”

Austin Cindric completes Xfinity sweep at Kentucky

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A night after claiming his first oval track win in NASCAR, Austin Cindric followed it up with a victory in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

The Team Penske driver completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races on the 1.5-mile track, dominating with a stage win and leading 130 of 200 laps.

Cindric crossed the finish line with a 2.2-second advantage over runner-up Chase Briscoe.

The top five was completed by Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Unlike Thursday night, Cindric celebrated with a burnout on the frontstretch.

“I hope I laid enough rubber down to make up for Watkins Glen last year, that was pathetic,” Cindric told FS1. “I’m just so excited. … what we did tonight was really impressive. Because we ran one setup last night and won the race. We came with another setup and won the race again. That happens at the shop, that happens with the guys on the (pit box).”

Later in his press conference, Cindric said a change in setup was in part due to the tracks that are coming up, at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Obviously with mile-and-half-tracks being really important in the second round of our playoffs with Texas and Kansas, our next two races being Texas and Kansas, and the question of having practice or not is looming very big for me,” Cindric said. “Obviously, Phoenix (site of the championship race) is the most important race of the year, but you’ve got to get there first. I feel like those are two really important steps other than Martinsville to get there. So deciding on what we want to run at those race tracks given those characteristics and more … that’s why we decided to change the game tonight.”

After the race, Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson got into a scuffle. They had made contact on a restart with 13 laps to go. Gragson finished seventh and and Burton placed 12th.

STAGE 1: Noah Gragson

STAGE 2: Austin Cindric

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Chase Briscoe finished in the top two for the seventh time in 15 races this season … Justin Allgaier finished in the top five after he spent just 33 of 200 laps on the lead lap after a flat tire brought him to pit road early in the race and put him a lap down … Ross Chastain placed fourth for his 13th top-10 finish of 2020, most of all drivers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Sieg spun in Turn 2 on Lap 3. He finished 35th … Riley Herbst finished 10th after he was caught speeding on pit road with 52 laps to go … Brandon Jones spun and wrecked with 22 laps to go while racing for second with Daniel Hemric. It’s his fourth consecutive DNF.

NOTABLE: Cindric is the first driver since Richard Petty in July 1971 in Cup to win races in the same series in consecutive days.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET July 18 on NBCSN

NASCAR to teams: Address ‘complacency’ to COVID-19 mask protocols

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NASCAR sent a memo to teams earlier this week advising them to address “pockets of complacency” toward its COVID-19 mask protocols.

The memo was first reported by WCNC, NBC’s Charlotte affiliate.

In the memo, NASCAR said it was “seeing more and more van loads of crew members rolling up to the track without masks on, and people wearing their mask down around their chin.”

The memo stated that further flouting of the protocols “will threaten our ability to continue racing.”

“More people in our industry are going to contract the virus,” the memo added. “The key is limiting it.”

“It is important for everyone to do their part ALL THE TIME. One cluster outbreak can derail our season.”

In May, NASCAR issued a bulletin stating failure to comply with COVID-19 rules could result in a $50,000 fine.

The memo comes after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing him to miss the Brickyard 400. Earlier this week Johnson had two negative tests, allowing him to be cleared for Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Previously, Stewart-Haas Racing had two employees test positive for virus and Team Penske had one employee test positive.

In North Carolina, where most NASCAR teams are based, the state now has 81,000 cases and it has reached 1,000 hospitalizations for the first time.

The Cup Series is scheduled to hold its All-Star Race on Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee. Tennessee has just over 59,000 confirmed cases and has had 86 deaths since Sunday, a single-week record.

NASCAR is scheduled to compete next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Texas has more than 235,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths. On Thursday, it recorded 10,000 new daily cases for the second time.