NASCAR announced Tuesday that Chase Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion and the sport's five-time Most Popular Driver, has been suspended for one week for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin during Monday's Coca-Cola 600.
Elliott will miss the upcoming Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway, marking the seventh race overall that he has missed in 2023.
On Lap 186 of the Coke 600, Elliott had been racing for sixth when Hamlin's car slid up the racetrack, squeezing Elliott into the outside wall. Elliott then appeared to retaliate by hooking a left into Hamlin's right rear quarter panel, sending the No. 11 Toyota head on into the outside wall in the frontstretch dogleg.
While Elliott denied in a television interview that he had retaliated against Hamlin, claiming that his car would not steer after hitting the outside wall, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials -- after examining available resources including SMT data, which provides steering, throttle, braking, etc. -- determined that Elliott had turned his car into Hamlin's on purpose.
"It was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion," Sawyer said. "Nothing... on that particular contact with the fourth turn wall gave us any indication that anything was broke by looking at in-car camera, hand position on the steering wheel, and the way the steering wheel was turned hard to the left. It just supported what the optics were, and again, that's where we landed on the penalty that we did."
Hendrick Motorsports announced that Corey LaJoie, who usually drives the No. 7 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports, would fill in for Elliott as the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet at Gateway. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar will fill LaJoie's usual seat in the No. 7 and make his Cup Series debut.
The suspension of Elliott continues the process of NASCAR drawing a line in the sand on on-track retaliation, as it is consistent with a penalty for a similar incident last fall. Last year, NASCAR parked Bubba Wallace for one week after he responded to being squeezed into the wall by Kyle Larson by right-hooking Larson head on into the outside wall, an especially dangerous maneuver given that it took place at high speed and sent Larson into the path of oncoming traffic.
An irate Hamlin directly cited the suspension of Wallace both immediately after the incident and on his podcast as he called for NASCAR to take similar action against Elliott.
"There's no explanation that he could possibly give -- which he didn't -- of reason for hanging a left," Hamlin said. "He obviously didn't want to admit it, he did the 'Oh, I can't hear you, sorry' and then 'Sorry, I can't hear what you're saying, but yeah, my car, I just couldn't drive it.' Bulls---. The f---ing wheels were dead straight even after we crashed and destroyed our s--t- he goes down the backstraightaway and both tires are pointed the correct direction... He threw a hissy fit and he just hung a left on us in the most dangerous part of the racetrack that you possibly could."
Elliott had already missed six races this year after being injured in a snowboarding accident early in the season.