Hamlin, with his 31 NASCAR Cup wins, saw another shot at the title go by the wayside Sunday as he crashed with 36 laps remaining following contact with Elliott at Phoenix. He remains the driver with the most Cup wins without a Cup title.
Elliott’s runner-up finish at Phoenix gave him seven for his career. Many view him as being wronged at Martinsville two weeks ago, when Hamlin took him out going for the lead. Their contact at Phoenix appeared to possibly be retaliation. While successful in getting back at Hamlin, Elliott remains winless in 76 career NASCAR Cup starts as Matt Kenseth passed him with 10 laps left for the Phoenix win.
“[It’s] just very disappointing, and I just hate so bad for my team,” Elliott said. “They’ve been so close to winning a handful of races the past couple years, and just, like I told them after the race, at some point I’ve got to figure out how to close better, and I take responsibility for that.
“I felt like I gave it my all today, and we’ll try to go to Homestead next week, finish the season as strong as we can and then get ready to come at them next year as hard as possible.”
Elliott needed to win to be among the four championship finalists at Homestead. By finishing second in the first stage and first in the second stage, all Hamlin had to do was beat Keselowski as long as Elliott or Ryan Blaney didn’t win.
Neither of them advanced, and maybe Martinsville made the difference.
“I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me and that’s the way I see it,” Elliott said.
Hamlin swore that he tried to give Elliott the inside lane and Elliott just ran him into the wall.
“Each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances,” Hamlin said. “So, it’s just part of racing. I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.”
But Hamlin, who had led a race-high 193 laps Sunday, also knows that some of the reason he won’t compete for the title at Homestead is self-inflicted.
“We had a bad pit stop and then we didn’t really make any adjustments,” Hamlin said. “Our car got really tight and we were just battling all we could to keep our track position. We weren’t and we allowed out competition to get close to us.”
But Hamlin indicated that if Elliott had won the race and advanced to be among the four championship finalists at Homestead, their little spat might not be over.
“It’s all fair but now we have nothing to race for (next week) and he possibly does so it’s all fair,” Hamlin said as Elliott was leading the race and in position to advance to race for the championship. “It’s going to be tough sledding.”
Xfinity Series: The perils of using NASCAR Cup pit crews
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is thankful for getting to use the NASCAR Cup pit crews from Hendrick Motorsports on his Xfinity team. But it is a lot, apparently, to ask for them to come in Friday for a Saturday afternoon race.
With arrival scheduled for five hours before the start at Phoenix Raceway, it would seem that would be a buffer for any issues. But it wasn’t as the Embraer ERJ-145 had an electrical warning light go off, and the flight was diverted to Little Rock. Ryan DiVita, director of marketing and sales for Aerodynamics (the airline carrier for the ConSeaAir travel service NASCAR teams and officials use), said they couldn’t diagnose the source of the warning light and, with it being Saturday morning, had trouble locating a plane in the area that could get them to Phoenix on time.
About half of the crew for JR Motorsports was on the plane; the other half and several development crew members were already in Phoenix because they had worked the truck race the previous night. It ended up not costing JR Motorsports, which won the race with William Byron and advanced Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler into the championship.
“We’re very fortunate the truck race were here last night,” Sadler said. “We have a lot of guys in the farm system that were pitting trucks and staying over and were going to fly back [after the Xfinity race].
“They were here. If the trucks weren’t here, we would have really been out of luck.”
Earnhardt, who leaves the day-to-day managing of the team to his sister and co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller, praised the work of the replacements.
“I was real surprised by the news, but I was assured that we had people here who could get in there and do the job,” Earnhardt said. “And to be honest with you, they did. Give those guys a lot of credit.”
But should Earnhardt, whose team is co-owned by Rick Hendrick, have those guys in Phoenix on Friday before an elimination race?
“I don’t really have anything to do with all that,” Earnhardt said. “I just get to come to the media center when we win. … We’re kind of thankful to even have those guys that are working on Sunday to have that caliber of team on Saturday.
“It’s a great relationship between Hendrick and us to be able to do that. It’s probably the expense of hotel rooms and so forth.”
Camping World Truck Series: Does Cindric have to watch it?
Crafton said things could be taken care of at Homestead, where Cindric, Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Christopher Bell will be the four drivers competing for a title. Rhodes was the first driver out thanks to his move where he tried to shut the door in the inside line before Cindric could get there.
“He didn’t have the position on me at all,” Rhodes said. “His nose was barely in there. [If] he didn’t back up, he wouldn’t ever have made the corner, so driving over his head I guess.”
Cindric swore it wasn’t intentional.
“I was there, and he was already faster than me most of the night,” he said. “We had 20 go, and I felt like that he was strong enough to get by me if not still defend in a three-wide situation.
“I felt like that was a move that was too desperate for someone who had the speed that he had. … Nothing malicious. Two guys racing for the same real estate.”
Cindric car owner Brad Keselowski said Cindric just has to focus on Homestead.
“I understood why Rhodes blocked and I understood why he drove it in,” Keselowski said. “There’s 20 laps to go and he had an opportunity and he took it. I think both of them probably made the right move, it just didn’t work out. … We all like to play the right and wrong game, which is natural.
“Sometimes in racing things happen and there isn’t really a right and wrong.”