It was the shot heard ‘round the NASCAR world.
Chase Elliott was contending for the win at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night, when Kyle Busch misjudged his position and dumped the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the frontstretch. After he collided with the wall and the car came to rest in Turn 1, Elliott walked away from an emergency worker and up towards the track to show his displeasure with the current Cup champion.
When the No. 18 Toyota came around the bend, Elliott shot the bird at Busch. The one-finger salute was no indication that Elliott believed Busch was number one.
“I don’t think he wrecked me on purpose,” Elliott said. “I think that he was trying to make a spot that wasn’t there. And, much like I told him, I get that mistakes happen--that’s part of life and I get it.
“He’s just not a guy that makes many mistakes, so for me to be on the poor end of a rare mistake on his end is, at the end of the day, unfortunate for me and my team.”
Elliott led 28 laps. He fell from second place during the wreck and was scored 38th at the finish. For a driver who is still searching for his first victory of the season—and his first since winning at the Charlotte Roval in September—to come that close and leave with nothing to show for the team’s effort stings.
“I just want to go win,” Elliott said. “I thought we had a really nice opportunity to try and grab a win there on Wednesday. So that’s my goal. I want nothing more than to just go run well and try to put ourselves in position to win a lot of races, and we’ve been lucky to have been in a few positions this year.
“We’re fast enough to win... just hasn’t worked out. I’m hopeful that our day will come.”
After the incident, Busch called Elliott to apologize. He accepted responsibility for the wreck and acknowledged his mistake. But Busch understands that a simple mea culpa might not be enough to allay the ire within Elliott’s massive fan base.
“It was just a bad mistake on my part and I’ll just have to deal with it later on,” Busch said Wednesday. “They’re mad, I’m not just going to fix it and we’re not going to go have ice cream tomorrow. Obviously, they’re going to have to dwell on it, and the repercussions of it, for sure, I’m going to have later on down the road.”
NASCAR certainly could use a rivalry right now—especially between the most popular driver and the racer who is likely the most despised in the sport—but it’s unlikely in this environment, particularly with the absence of fans in stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that this incident will fuel a feud.
“At the end of the day, obviously, I hate that it was me that got wrecked,” Elliott said. “But I want nothing more than to go win and try to do my part for my team. (The rivalry), that’s completely up to the people. I know it’s gained a lot of traction and there’s a lot of people talking about it, so that was ultimately a win for the sport. It was a loss for me and my team.
“People love drama, they love talking about that stuff and they’ve been doing a lot of it. So, at the end of the day, there’s nothing we can do about it. But I really don’t care to answer your original question – it’s kind of up to whatever people want to make of it.”
And even if a feud were to ensue, there’s not much Elliott could do to defend his honor in the era of social distancing.
“Yeah, it’d be kind of hard to fight when you have to stay six-feet apart,” Elliott said with a laugh. “My arms aren’t long enough.”