AVONDALE, Ariz. — Denny Hamlin expressed remorse about making contact with Kurt Busch and triggering an accident that ended the title hopes for Busch and Chase Elliott.
A frustrated Busch — who entered Sunday three points behind Kevin Harvick for the final transfer spot — was consoled by car owner Tony Stewart on pit road after dropping out of the race.
“He was just helping me out as a driver, owner,” Busch said of Stewart. “That’s what Tony Stewart does. He’s a good individual that knows how to pat somebody on the back and create clarity from the outside on what went on because I only see what happens from the inside of the car.”
Hamlin and Busch were racing for the lead after a restart 44 laps from the finish when Hamlin’s car got loose and came up the track in Turn 1. Hamlin’s car made contact with Busch’s car. That sent Busch’s car into the wall and triggered the multi-car crash.
“I just chased it up the track and he was up there,” Hamlin said after his 13th-place finish. “To me, it’s just a racing thing. It was obviously noting intentional on my part. I’m a huge Kurt Busch fan.”
Hamlin also noted that “I’ve never had one incident (with Busch). He’s as fair to me as anyone out there. I hate it for him. Trust me I was rooting for him.”
Busch, who finished 32nd described the incident from his viewpoint: “Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2. If I could have been to somebody’s outside off (Turn) 2, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead, and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out.”
Busch was at the front because he did not pit under that caution. He, Jones and Hamlin did not pit while the rest of the lead-lap cars were on fresher tires.
“I thought it was the right decision on staying out,” Busch said. “I’m not going to look back on it.”
Busch was on a different strategy after overcoming a penalty for passing the pace car while entering pit road on Lap 136. NASCAR specifically reminded competitors in the drivers meeting that they could not pass the car entering pit road.
“If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rulebook,” Busch said after the race. “I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day.”