Denny Hamlin says that if Chase Elliott retaliates against Kyle Busch for Wednesday night’s wreck at Darlington Raceway, then “the result might be equal, but it’s not equal as far as intention.”
Busch hooked Elliott on the frontstretch late in Wednesday’s race as they ran in the top three. Elliott, who finished 38th, gave Busch the middle finger after the incident.
Busch, who finished second, said that he made a mistake.
“That was entirely unintentional,” he said of the contact. “I’ll definitely reach out to (Elliott) and tell him I’m sorry, tell him I hate that it happened and all I can do, but that doesn’t change the outcome of the night.”
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Hamlin, who is Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, suggested that retaliation by Elliott might not send the best message.
“I would say that if Chase were to retaliate, you know that’s international, right?” Hamlin said Thursday during a Zoom call with media. “We all know it’s intentional. What Kyle did was unintentional. Now, is the score really even if one is intentional and one is not? Probably not.”
Elliott has not spoken publicly about the incident. His crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said after the race: “You get tired of getting ran over like that. (Busch’s) explanation I’m sure is accurate, but it doesn’t change it.”
Hamlin, who won Wednesday night’s Cup race for his second victory of the season, said Elliott doesn’t need to retaliate to gain respect from fellow competitors.
“It’s a no-win (situation) to push back,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think you have to because of pressure either from your team or the media or whatever. The drivers respect Chase. They respect whoever it might be.
“If Chase doesn’t retaliate, no driver thinks any less of him. Every driver out there saw that Kyle just made a small mistake. He misjudged. We don’t go out there and expect Chase to do anything to him. If he does … that raises your eyebrow more than what Kyle did, in my opinion. I don’t think that Chase needs to fight for relevance. We all know that he’s good, he’s talented and he’s going to win a ton of races.”
Hamlin had a high-profile incident with Elliott during the 2017 Cup playoffs at Martinsville. Hamlin wrecked Elliott late in the race while Elliott led. They had an animated discussion after the race.
“I knew I made a mistake when it happened,” Hamlin said of the Martinsville incident with Elliott. “If you look at my interview, I said I crashed because I ran into him.”
Two weeks later at Phoenix, Elliott nudged Hamlin, who hit the wall. Hamlin’s car developed a tire rub that eventually cut the tire and sent the car into the wall.
Hamlin said the Martinsville incident — and what Elliott did at Phoenix — hasn’t carried over.
“I don’t race him any different,” Hamlin said. “I race him tough, just the same as I did before I crashed him at Martinsville. That’s a sign of respect for me is to race someone tough, but there are times where we don’t always have to race tough. You have to race smart, too, and that’s what wins races.”
Hamlin illustrated that point by referencing his feud with Brad Keselowski early in Keselowski’s career.
Their issues reached a boil late in the 2009 season. Hamlin and Keselowski made contact multiple times during a Nationwide race at Phoenix before Keselowski spun Hamlin. Hamlin suggested he would seek revenge the next week at Miami and did so, turning Keselowski.
“Me and him would get into it week in, week out,” Hamlin said. “His mentality as a young guy trying to prove himself in the sport was that, ‘You can’t push me around. I’m going to stick up for myself. If you cut me off, I’m just going to crash you.’
“While he did make it to the Cup Series, it’s when he started thinking with his mind, in my opinion, is when he became more successful.”