MARTINSVILLE, Va. – If you looked around Martinsville Speedway and on social media Sunday night, there was a legion of fans believing Denny Hamlin should have been penalized for his late-race bump of Chase Elliott at the end of the First Data 500.
The contact ultimately turned Elliott from the lead and ended his shot to both win the race and gain an automatic berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
It’s a move that has been seen at short tracks across the country for decades, but it’s a move that many facilities have “protect the leader” rules against, sending the bumper to the rear of the field while giving the bumpee his position back.
But there is no such rule in NASCAR, and as such Elliott lost out on his shot to compete for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on the final restart.
However, there are rules on aggressive driving in NASCAR’s top three series, and those were the rules fans were citing when calling that Hamlin should have been sent to the rear and not left in the lead with a shot to win at the end of the race.
Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, however, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell reiterated that the sanctioning body and series officials saw nothing that they felt warranted a penalty, nor was there ever any discussion of changing that decision after the race.
“Certainly, what Chase was able to do in an attempt to win his first race there … I think you saw by the fans how much he has a fan base and how much everyone wants to see him win,” said O’Donnell. “Denny, I think, did in his mind what he needed to do and probably went too far.”
“We did not make a call there. That race stands. We’re not in the business of calling an in-race penalty post-race. That was good hard racing, for the most part, all day at Martinsville. I think Denny might have crossed the line, as he put out there on Twitter, and I thought Chase handled himself very well post-race. He showed some passion, but that’s what the sport is all about. He’s got a long career ahead of him. I think he’ll be up front leading many times.”
O’Donnell added that there were also no plans to penalize Elliott for driving Hamlin up to the wall on the cool-down lap, despite Hamlin’s window net being down at that point.
“You’re at a short track and not at speed. … For us, that was just part of Martinsville.”