Bristol Motor Speedway never disappoints. A battle for the lead that seemed to stretch over the entire last 200 laps ended with an electrifying finish. First, it looked like Denny Hamlin was in position to win, but a jam up with several lapped cars sent the No. 11 into the wall and brought out the final caution flag. Then Chase Elliott and Joey Logano fought for the lead in a five-lap shootout that ended with both cars in the wall. Brad Keselowski emerged as the biggest beneficiary, capturing his second win of the season and second victory in the last three races.
As is customary with racing at Bristol, there were some hurt feelings post-race. Logano and Elliott had a discussion on pit road about the incident which took them both out of contention on lap 498. Trying to pull even with Logano while racing into turn 3, Elliott lost control of his car on the bottom lane and slid up the track. Both the No. 9 and the No. 22 went into the wall, opening the door for Keselowski to take the lead and drive away to victory.
Naturally, Logano and Elliott had different versions of how the race ended.
“He wrecked me, he got loose underneath me,” Logano said. “The part that’s frustrating is, afterward, a simple apology, like, be a man, come up to someone and say like, ‘Hey, my bad.’ But I had to force an apology, which to me is just childish.
“Passed him clean,” Logano added. “It’s hard racing at the end, I get that, it’s hard racing. But golly man, be a man and take the hit when you’re done with it.”
And Elliott’s take?
“Just going for the win. (I was) trying to get a run underneath him and got really loose. I don’t know if I had a tire going down or if I just got loose on entry, but as soon as I turned off the wall I had zero chance in making it. I’ll certainly take the blame.
“I felt like that was my shot,” Elliott added. “(Logano) was really good on the short run and I felt like I had to keep him behind me right there in order to win the race with only three or four laps to go. I hate we both wrecked, but can’t go back in time now.”
Differences of opinion like this are nothing new to Bristol. But what makes the Logano/Elliott crash interesting is how both drivers found themselves on the opposite end of controversial moments they have been involved with in the past. This time, it was Logano fuming about being wrecked by a competitor while Elliott explained that he was simply going for the win. Usually, it’s the other way around – Elliott missing out on a potential victory due to late-race chaos, and Logano arguing that hard racing with a win on the line needs no justification and requires no apology.
Note that this is the second time within a year that Logano has publicly wondered why he did not receive an instant apology from a competitor after a short track skirmish. Last autumn at Martinsville Speedway, Logano had a disagreement with Hamlin that ended in pit road fisticuffs. Once the dust had settled there, Logano made very similar comments explaining why he was angry.
“I just wanted to see what he was going to say, and he really wasn’t apologetic at all,” Logano said. “That’s more frustrating when someone is like that, isn’t it, when someone wrecks you and is like, ‘eh,’ that’s not really what I was going for there. I just wanted to see what his thoughts were, and that wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for.”
The problem is that Logano himself has never been apologetic in the manner which he described last year. For other controversial incidents in which he has been involved, Logano has always chalked his actions up to hard racing. No doubt drivers like Hamlin and Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway in 2013, Matt Kenseth at Kansas Speedway in 2015, Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2017 and Martin Truex Jr. at Martinsville in 2018, all felt like Logano owed them an apology. And while Logano did not have the same level of culpability across all those incidents, he clearly felt that no apologies were necessary. Why then did he expect an apology from Hamlin last year, or from Elliott on Sunday? Perhaps Logano is learning that there are limits to the excuse of “hard racing.”
Elliott, meanwhile, got a taste of what it feels like to make a major mistake and cost another driver a shot at the win. Less than two weeks ago, Elliott went spinning into the wall at Darlington Raceway after getting hooked by Kyle Busch on the frontstretch. Elliott, Busch, and Hamlin were all racing for the lead at the time, and the crash completely knocked Elliott out of contention with only 20 scheduled laps left in the race. Upon exiting his car, Elliott gave Busch a one-finger salute, and the crew of the No. 9 team was quick to confront Busch on pit road after the race was cut short due to rain.
Busch made a mistake at Darlington, just as Elliott made a mistake at Bristol. Elliott was understandably angry about getting hooked with a race win on the line but cooled down considerably after talking the incident over with Busch. Nevertheless, a vocal minority in Elliott’s large fan base was ready to send Busch straight to the guillotine for his role in crashing the No. 9. Busch admitted right away that he did not turn Elliott on purpose, but the argument among some fans was that Busch’s error was so egregious that it demanded payback from Elliott. Following that logic, Elliott’s mistake demands payback from Logano, right?
The truth is that Elliott’s grounds for payback against Busch were pretty thin, as Elliott himself seemed to realize. Seeing how his race at Darlington ended no doubt disappointed a great many people, including the No. 9 team itself. But Sunday was a reminder that Elliott is capable of making costly mistakes too. Drivers do desperate, risky things with the checkered flag in sight, and sometimes mistakes happen.
To be clear, the point of this piece is not to pick on Logano, Elliott, or any of their fans. I myself would have made a similar move to what Elliott did on Sunday. And, if I was on the receiving end of such a move, I would have wanted an apology just like Logano did. No race car driver, and indeed no human being, is going to act 100 percent rationally all the time.
The point is to demonstrate just how quickly fortunes can change in racing. Logano winding up as a victim of aggressive driving by Elliott, who himself was the victim of an aggressive move not two weeks ago, is the kind of unpredictability that makes NASCAR so much fun to follow. Watching how these drivers react to each other is a reminder that they are real people with real emotions, who are capable of taking entirely different positions on similar incidents as soon as the shoe is on the other foot. But that’s nobody’s fault. That’s racing. That’s life.