Kyle Larson did not know his Hendrick teammate was making it three-wide for the lead towards the end of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, and said he did not intentionally squeeze Chase Elliott into the wall.
Charging down the frontstretch with 20 laps go, Joey Logano dove to the inside of Larson for the race lead. As the two were side-by-side, Elliott took his run to the outside, but as he got to the right-rear of Larson, the latter moved to the right to begin his entry into Turn 1. The sudden move from Larson forced Elliott into the outside wall.
“I didn’t get through (Turns) 3 and 4 very well,” Larson said. “Joey did a good job on the bottom and then we were side drafting each other, and I’m not even looking at my mirror at that point because all I’m worried about is Joey. I’m looking out of my A-post window, and I had a run, so I went to peel off and as soon as I peeled off my spotter’s yelling, ‘outside, outside, outside.’ I had no clue (Elliott) was even coming.
“I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win. But it’s just an honest mistake (and) probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror, and my spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I probably would not have been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joe. But it just happened, and I hate that it did.”
The impact with the wall broke the toe link in Elliott’s car for the second time – he previously broke it when hitting the wall on lap 33 while leading – and knocked him off the pace. When Larson came upon Elliott to lap him with 11 laps to go, Elliott moved down on Larson on the frontstretch, and Elliott then spun with nine laps to go to bring out the race’s final caution.
Elliott finished 26th, which was a frustrating ending after fighting back from two laps down. The damage from the first time Elliott hit the wall not only broke the toe link but caused a vibration and other suspension issues. Elliott spun a few laps later, and the extended repair work took him off the lead lap, and he ran as low as 33rd in the running order.
Elliott was awarded the free pass to get one of the two laps back at the end of Stage 1. A caution on lap 92 resulted in another free pass for Elliott, and he was back inside the top 10 with less than 50 laps to go.
“I know that they’re upset, but we’ll talk and hopefully get on the same page,” Larson said. “I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively that late on purpose.”
Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels went over Elliott’s garage and spoke with crew chief Alan Gustafson, saying they would “take our share of the responsibility.” Daniels described the incident as a tough racing deal and said Larson and Elliott are great teammates and will continue to be so.
Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews spoke with Elliott after the race. Andrews, who acknowledged what Elliott and his team went through to battle back into contention, said the mending fences begin with Larson and Elliott getting to a good spot after reviewing what happened.
“Certainly, it was nothing intentional there by Kyle,” said Andrews. “We’ll go back and talk about it in our meetings tomorrow and Tuesday and look at all the facts, and look at what happened, talk about it as a company. At the end of the day, as we always do, we’ll do the right things for the company and get ready to go to Las Vegas in a good spot for everybody.”