NASCAR: Chase Elliott’s issues with Joe Gibbs Racing continue

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway saw Martin Truex Jr. tangle with Chase Elliott for the lead with 15 laps to go. The two suffered heavy damage, allowing Kevin Harvick to snatch the win in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener.

Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at the track “Too Tough To Tame” ended with contact and plenty of controversy.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 196 of the 367 laps around the four-turn, 1.366-mile (2.198-kilometer) oval in Darlington, South Carolina, initiated contact with Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott as he tried to take back the lead with 15 laps to go.

The contact led to both drivers slapping the outside wall. Elliott slowed considerably, while Truex had to head to pit lane with a flat right rear tire. The two finished in 20th and 22nd place, respectively.

While it certainly seemed that Truex did not intend to put Elliott in the wall, the driver of the #9 Chevrolet expressed his frustration over the radio: “Not f****** clear, jack***.”

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For Elliott, Sunday’s incident only adds to his list of unfortunate events with veterans in the Cup Series, namely those driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Back in May at the same venue, Kyle Busch clipped Elliott with 28 laps to go in a race for second place. This sent the #9 Chevrolet to the inside wall for a hard hit, marking a disappointing end to the night for the driver who appeared to have the fastest car and a shot at the win given the fact that he was on new tires. Instead, fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Denny Hamlin, captured the victory.

As Busch made his way back around under yellow, Elliott did not hesitate to show his displeasure, giving the two-time champion the middle finger for his mistake.

However, Elliott’s most memorable incident with a driver from Joe Gibbs’s stable came back in October of 2017 at Martinsville Speedway.

Elliott, still winless at the time, was wrecked out of the lead by Hamlin with just over two laps to go. Hamlin confronted the young star after the race, and while Elliott did not stop from defending himself and criticizing Hamlin’s aggressive driving, he did refrain from making the meeting physical.

Two weeks later, Elliott pushed Hamlin’s #11 Toyota into the wall late in the race at Phoenix Raceway. Subsequently, Hamlin cut a right front tire and pounded the wall, ending his 2017 championship hopes.

Back then, Elliott was in his second full season at NASCAR’s top level and still searching for his first win. Now, with eight wins under his belt, he is one of the sport’s top drivers. Yet late-race incidents with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have not escaped him.

Despite having two wins, Elliott has not had a stellar year, partly due to a lack of pace from Hendrick Motorsports, and also because of late-race issues. To date, two potential wins in 2020 have been pulled out from under him by two different Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.

None of these incidents have carried on for too long, and it seems that Elliott is still a magnet for contact and controversy when racing for the lead.

Compare this to earlier in the year at Bristol Motor Speedway when he crashed with Team Penske’s Joey Logano while racing for the lead late in the race. In this instance, Elliott was to blame for driving into the corner too hard and putting the #22 Ford into the outside wall.

So two weeks later, Logano purposely held up Elliott at Homestead-Miami Speedway, effectively costing the #9 team the victory. Elliott was attempting to lap Logano while racing Hamlin, the eventual winner, for the race lead.

Elliott remains stricken by misfortune in late-race battles in 2020. If he wants to make a championship run, incidents while racing for wins will have to come to an end for the 24-year old. He will have to up his aggressiveness during late-race situations, and at one point or another, it will be time for NASCAR’s most popular driver to take a stand, on the track and off the track.

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As NASCAR continues with the round of 16 of the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if Elliott has any further controversy with Joe Gibbs Racing cars at two short tracks known for contact: Richmond Raceway (Saturday, September 12) and Bristol Motor Speedway (Saturday, September 19).