Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were involved in an awkward sequence prior to the final restart on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Racing off pit road, Larson was forced to swerve right to avoid Brad Keselowski leaving his own pit box. The split-second decision resulted in a hip check of sorts to Elliott beside him. Elliott had eventual winner Tyler Reddick to his outside and had nowhere to go.
Once clear of pit road, Elliott appeared to door Larson in retaliation. Larson finished fourth and Elliott sixth. After the race, Elliott climbed out of his car and had a quick word with Larson as he drove by on pit road.
“It was just a byproduct of being three-wide on pit exit,” Larson said. “He was in the middle lane and had (Reddick) to his outside. We had a good pit stop and left my stall and was inside of Chase and (Keselowski) who was pitted ahead of us, he was coming out of the stall. I’m trying to leave everyone as much room as possible that I can. (Keselowski) was going much closer as I was approaching him. I was going to clobber him if I didn’t move up a little bit. We made slight contact and all that.
“I haven’t seen the replay yet. If I could have left more room, I would have. Things are happening so fast and (Keselowski) was basically at a stop in the lane. I was trying not to clobber him.”
In various interviews after the race, Elliott indicated that the second contact after pit exit was not intentional.
“There was no message,” Elliott told FOX Sports.
“No, no, no,” he said.
In isolation, the incident wouldn’t quite be so noteworthy but is when provided the context of a recent history of tension and hard racing between them. Elliott and Larson quite frequently race up front with each other and have had several on-track run-ins during their two-plus year tenure as teammates.
Elliott led twice for 47 laps on Sunday, one of his best runs of a season marred by a snowboarding injury that ultimately caused him to miss the Cup Series playoffs for the first time in his career. Elliott is however racing for the owner’s championship in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as the car continued to accumulate points with various drivers in his absence.
Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 +12
Trackhouse Racing No. 1 +11
RFK Racing No. 17 +6
Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 +6
Team Penske No. 22 +5
Stewart Haas Racing No. 4 -5
Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 -12
JTG Daugherty No. 47 -27
Front Row Racing No. 34 -45
Larson captured the opening stage and looked to have the dominant car of the first half before a decision to stay out on old tires didn’t work out and hurtled the No. 5 outside the top-15. Larson drove the car back towards the front and was in the mix on the final start and at least had a shot.
“We stayed out on tires, like 10 laps were on them, and I nearly spun and lost all of my track position and used up all of my right rear in that first corner,” Larson said. “I just had to nurse it back from there.
“On that last restart, I tried to get a good launch and (Hamlin) didn’t get going and then he blocked. I never had a good enough run to clear him.”
Crew chief Cliff Daniels took responsibility for the ‘bad call’ to keep Larson out on old tires and reiterated that sentiment to NASCAR.com after the race.
“It was a great comeback, but honestly, it was unnecessary,” Daniels said. “I’m still kicking myself for the time we stayed out and should have pitted. Now that I have hindsight, it was a pretty clear call that I should have pitted. It certainly worked out for the 9 and a few other guys but not us.
“At that point of the day, our car was good enough that I didn’t want to put ourselves in traffic on (equal tires) and have an issue. Now in hindsight, I would have gladly put our car in 15th and let him drive through the field. That one is on me, take it on the chin, learn from it and be better because of it.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.