Meetings and apologies are in order at Hendrick Motorsports after Kyle Larson forced teammate Chase Elliott into the wall late in Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway while contending for the lead.
Elliott unleashed a string of expletives on his team’s radio after Larson sent him into the wall and damaged his car. Larson went on to win the race. Elliott finished 26th.
Jeff Andrews, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, talked with Elliott after the event and said discussions will continue within the organization.
“I think certainly nothing intentional there by Kyle, and I think we’ll go back — I know we’ll go back and talk about it in our meetings (Monday) and Tuesday,” Andrews said. “We’ll look at all the facts. We’ll look at what happened, and we’ll talk about it as a company.
“At the end of the day we’re going to — as we always do — we’ll do the right things for the company and get ready to go to Las Vegas (next weekend) in a good spot for really everybody.”
Larson and Joey Logano were racing side-by-side for the lead with 21 laps go when Elliott, running behind them, moved to the outside to pass both.
As Elliott made his move, Larson moved up the track. That forced Elliott into the wall, damaging his car.
Larson explained his viewpoint of the situation:
“I didn’t get through (Turns) 3 and 4 very well. Joey did a good job on the bottom, and then we were side drafting each other. I’m not even looking in my mirror at that point because all I’m worried about is Joey, and I’m looking out of my A-post window.
“I had a run, so I went to peel off. As soon as I peeled off, my spotter is yelling, “Outside! Outside! Outside!” I had no clue (Elliott) was even coming.
“I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror.
“My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joey.
“It happened, and I hate that it did. I know they’re upset. But we’ll talk, and hopefully we’ll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose.”
Larson’s spotter, Tyler Monn took responsibility for the incident.
Today I made a mistake. I will take full responsibility for what happen on track today. I was worried more about the 22 and not the 9. It was a late call on me it had nothing to do with Kyle.
— Tyler Monn (@TylerMonn) February 28, 2022
A few laps after the incident, Elliott asked the team if anyone had looked at a replay to see if something happened differently from what Elliott saw.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson told him: “It’s what you saw. … We’ll try to finish the best we can. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
With nine laps left, Elliott’s damaged car got worse. He radioed his team: “It’s getting worse. It’s a lot worse the last half.”
Gustafson said: “Bring it to us and we’ll fix it.”
Elliott stayed out and spun to bring out the 12th and final caution of the race eight laps from the finish. Larson led at the time.
Andrews discounted the notion that Elliott spun intentionally.
“I don’t believe he was taking out any frustration,” Andrews said of Elliott. “He came on there pretty quickly after the contact with the wall, and it was a very similar issue that had happened to them early in the day with the bent toe link, and that puts a bunch of toe out in that right rear tire and rear assembly and that makes it very difficult to drive.
“They were trying to stay out and finish as well as they could and had the issue late in the race there, had to come in and put a toe link on it.”
Although the caution gave those behind Larson one more chance to get by, no one could and he scored his first win of the season and 17th of his Cup career.
Larson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, said he spoke with Gustafson after the race.
“I walked over there and talked to (Gustafson), said ‘Hey, we’ll take our share of the responsibility.’ They’re great teammates, always have been, and I know we’re all good teammates together.
“Like (Larson) said, that’s nothing that he would ever do intentionally, and that’s a tough racing deal. I don’t blame Chase at all for what could have been the race-winning move, and he just told his side of the story.
“Obviously they had an amazing recovery on the 9 team today, so to see that get cut short is really tough for us as teammates because you want all four teammates to run 1 through 4. So unfortunate, but I know that we will all get together and be on the same page.”
That Elliott was in contention for the win late in the race seemed remarkable considering his woes early.
Elliott hit the wall on Lap 33 of the 200-lap race while leading. He continued but said he felt a vibration with the car. He soon reported that he thought something broke. A couple of laps later he spun.
Elliott fell back to 34th after the incident, two laps down. He climbed to 19th by the halfway point in the race. He returned to the top 10 on Lap 153 and moved up to second when the contact was made with Larson, ruining his race.