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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.”

Joe Gibbs Racing won’t appeal Denny Hamlin’s Darlington penalty; Chris Gabehart to be crew chief

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Denny Hamlin will start the Cup Series playoffs without crew chief Mike Wheeler.

Joe Gibbs Racing said Wednesday it won’t appeal Hamlin’s rear-suspension penalties after the No. 11 Toyota’s win in Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500, which means Wheeler’s two-race suspension will begin with the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Richmond Raceway (rather than be deferred while awaiting an appeal hearing that could have made him eligible).

Chris Gabehart will be the interim crew chief for Hamlin at Richmond and Chicagoland Speedway. 

Gabehart has been the crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series team of JGR in 23 races this season, including four victories. He has worked three times in 2017 with Hamlin, winning the June 17 race at Michigan International Speedway. Gabehart was suspended two races after NASCAR ruled that victory also was encumbered becuase of an illegal splitter.

Denny Hamlin caps impressive comeback from pit error to capture Southern 500

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin rebounded from a major mistake, taking the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with two laps remaining and hanging on to sweep the weekend at Darlington Raceway.

It was Hamlin’s second 500-mile win at the 1.366-mile oval and his first on Labor Day weekend. He won Friday’s Xfinity race at Darlington from the pole position.

Hamlin had been in control of the race before he missed the pits while leading under green on Lap 315 of 367. He made up a nearly 20-second deficit on the lead over the final 52 laps in his No. 11 Toyota.

“Drove our ass off,” Hamlin told NBCSN’s Rutledge Wood after his second victory of the season and 31st of his career. “That’s as hard as I can drive.”

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.

MORE: Race results.

MORE: Points standings.

Trying to defend his 2016 Southern 500 win, Truex nearly made it a sweep of his own after winning the first two stages, but he smacked the while leading on Lap 365 with a flat right-front tire after trying to stretch it on worn rubber after making his final pit stop under green with 62 laps remaining.

The Furniture Row Racing driver finished eighth and clinched the regular-season points championship, ensuring he will have at least 52 playoff points for the 10-race title run that closes the season.

Stage 1: Truex nips Larson for win.

Stage 2: Truex captures 17th stage victory of the season.

HOW DENNY HAMLIN WON: He led four times for 124 laps, overcoming a massive deficit to take advantage of Truex’s misfortune.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Kevin Harvick (sixth) became only the 17th driver to score his 300th top 10 in Cup (joining only Jimime Johnson and Matt Kenseth among active drivers). The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will make his 600th start next week. … Runner-up Kyle Busch has finished first or second in three of the past five races. … Kurt Busch (third) earned his best finish since winning the Daytona 500 and led more laps (seven) than in the previous 24 races this season. … Erik Jones has five straight top 10s. … Austin Dillon (fourth) earned his first top five since winning the Coca-Cola 600.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Clint Bowyer (40th) fell into a must-win situation at Richmond because of an engine problem. … Daniel Suarez crashed out for the second time in three races.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “It’s pretty simple.  You could almost write an article without talking to me.” — Joey Logano, on being asked if his situation was “pretty clear” after finishing 18th and needing a win at Richmond to make the playoffs.

NEXT: The Cup Series will return to action Sept. 9 with the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway on NBCSN.

If a baby is on board, Denny Hamlin won’t be at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – If Denny Hamlin gets the word that he is becoming a father for the second time, he won’t be hanging around Watkins Glen International for long.

Even if he’s behind the wheel of the No. 11 Toyota.

“As far as I’m concerned if and when I get the call I’ll go just immediately,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Saturday between Cup practices at the 2.45-mile track. “It really doesn’t matter to me when it particularly is. I mean, short of it being in the pace laps, then I would try to run one lap and then come in, but any other time I would just go right away. I’m not really sure how it all will work, but I assume that my people will be gotten a hold of as soon as I need to go.”

Hamlin’s jet is on standby if word comes from his girlfriend, Jordan, who is due to give birth to their second child Thursday.

Regan Smith, who is a “super sub” of sorts in NASCAR’s premier series, is at Watkins Glen in case Hamlin needs a relief driver.

NASCAR rules stipulate that a driver must attempt to start every race in order to maintain playoff eligibility, but it has granted waivers in the past to drivers who haven’t run the full season.

Hamlin, who is qualified for the playoffs through his victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway a couple of weeks ago, said he hasn’t asked whether he would be granted dispensation.

“I thought about it this morning, but no, I haven’t quite asked what the rules are,” he said, “but I’m assuming it would be allowed.”

Denny Hamlin says it’s ‘a necessity’ to improve Pocono with traction compound next year

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LONG POND, Pa. – A leader of the NASCAR Drivers Council says it’s time for the longest test of the traction compound that has been sweeping the Cup Series this season.

After finishing fourth in Sunday’s Overton’s 400, Denny Hamlin said using the PJ1 substance is “a necessity, honestly” at Pocono Raceway, continuing a crusade he started on Twitter last week.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Sunday that he recently had lobbied Pocono executives to use the compound.

“(They) said it’s definitely on the table when we come back,” Hamlin said. “I’d love to see it in the second to third lane, and you could see some amazing restarts and fun racing here once they do that.

The sticky substance, which is intended to add another lane of racing, has been used this season at Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Pocono’s 2.5-mile triangular layout would be the biggest track yet for its application.

“This is a one-lane racetrack,” said Hamlin, who led 18 laps Sunday before being passed by teammate and eventual race winner Kyle Busch with 16 laps remaining. “We’ve had great races in the sense of they’ve been close, but you need cautions here to fall and exciting restarts for there to be great and exciting racing. Side by side racing really doesn’t exist at this racetrack except for one lap after a restart.”

Hamlin has four wins at Pocono, most recently in June 2010.