Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin reignited their on-track feud at Phoenix and this time there was even more on the line.
But there were no winners.
Hamlin and Elliott both had cars capable of winning Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway – and with it a berth in the Championship 4 – and found themselves battling for second and making contact exiting Turn 4 on Lap 270 of 312.
Eventually, Elliott got around Hamlin for the position after nudging him out of the way, which left Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a tire rub. The tire eventually let go and Hamlin slammed into the wall on Lap 276, which ended his day.
While Hamlin was in the garage, Elliott went on to pass Matt Kenseth and took the lead, with a victory his only chance to compete for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
Kenseth, however, reclaimed the lead from Elliott with nine laps remaining, leaving Elliott with his fifth runner-up finish of the season and Chevrolet locked out of the 2017 title picture.
“We were so close to having another shot next week. We fought really hard today and gave ourselves a chance,” Elliott said after the race. “Our car was really fast on those short runs after a caution and after pit cycles on tires.
“It fired off really good and we did pretty good on the short run all day and it got really tight as the run went long. And once the rubber laid back down, I was just hanging on and hoping I could get to (lapped) traffic before I started going away.”
“It’s just such a bummer. I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities and at some point, we’ve just got to close.”
The contact between Hamlin and Elliott was not near as dramatic as two weeks ago at Martinsville, Va., when Hamlin wrecked Elliott while he was leading the race and two laps remained.
During Sunday’s on-track battle between Hamlin and Elliott, and then later when Elliott took the lead from Kenseth, the crowd at Phoenix roared its approval, reminiscent of the support he received from the Martinsville fans.
Asked about the hard racing with Hamlin, Elliott said, “Well I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless. I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me and that’s the way I see it.”
After visiting the infield care center following his accident, Hamlin seemed subdued, even resigned to his fate.
“I got into him (at Martinsville). He chose to retaliate. I’m in the garage. That’s the way it is,’’ he said. “I mean, 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, so, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing.
“We did a great job all day. This is the best car I’ve had in a very long time. We just got behind on the pit stops and then that just gave those guys an opportunity to get close.”