NASCAR
Bob Pockrass, NASCAR 21d

Payback has consequences, especially at a track such as Texas

NASCAR

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Chase Elliott probably can still hear the cheers of the fans from following the race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

He certainly still feels the frustration.

Now it's time for Texas Motor Speedway, and the big question is will hard feelings from Martinsville continue to frustrate drivers as they tackle a much bigger, much different track.

Denny Hamlin, who wrecked Elliott with two laps left in regulation at Martinsville, emphatically states he won't worry about how Elliott or other drivers will race him as he tries to put the chaos that was Martinsville Speedway behind him.

On the cool-down lap after Martinsville, Elliott drove his car into Hamlin's car to show his displeasure. On pit road speaking afterward, Elliott crew chief Alan Gustafson suggested Hamlin should prepare to meet a Turn 3 wall either at Texas or somewhere else.

At the very least, Hamlin should be prepared to hear more boos. Hamlin wasn't surprised that Elliott received the cheers from the fans after Martinsville as he looks for his first win.

"Any time there's a wreck, there's going to be sides and I think a lot of the reaction has to do with the players involved," Hamlin said Thursday.

So has Elliott, become, as Texas Motor Speedway proclaimed, the "people's champion" -- which is posted on banners throughout the track?

"I'm in the position and I'm not A. the track promoter and I'm not the people, B," Elliott said. "In this situation, ... I can't answer that."

Retaliation might not come this weekend just because of the high speeds of the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval, which is tricky enough on its own now that it is reconfigured to be different in Turns 1-2 than it is in Turns 3-4.

Next week at Phoenix? That's been a place where things could get ugly -- remember Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon? -- depending on where Hamlin and Elliott sit in trying to make the playoffs finale at Homestead.

Any driver, though, who sees Hamlin and Elliott racing for position Sunday will have to remember Martinsville.

"There is no doubt about it you don't want to be caught up in something that you don't need to be," said Elliott teammate Jimmie Johnson. "But we will just see how that evolves. Last weekend was crazy on a lot of levels.

"When we were coming to the checkered flag and cars are crashing ... I'm off the gas, on the brakes trying not to drive underneath the back of the car in front of me and I hear cars on the rev limiter, guys just wide open trying to cross the finish line not caring what is in the way in front of them. It was a pretty crazy environment that we lived through last week in Martinsville."

The drivers tried to return to normalcy.

Hamlin spent Thursday morning with the rest of the Toyota drivers signing autographs for employees at Toyota's new North American headquarters, about 35 miles from Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott didn't listen to any of the talk radio or read much of his Twitter timeline.

"I updated my Twitter a few times, but mostly to see what was going on in the college football world because as you all know the Georgia Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 right now in the country [in college football]," Elliott said. "I was more consumed with that, than this other stuff."

It is probably safe to assume that Elliott saw the apology Hamlin posted on Twitter after the race. The apology raised eyebrows considering that many viewed it as just what drivers must do in order to advance in the elimination-style playoffs. Hamlin had said all is fair when it comes to trying to get to Homestead.

So why apologize?

"Any time I've seen things like that in the past and someone have an arrogance or a sense of no compassion to the guy you just took out it bugged me a little bit so I felt like there was a need for me to issue an apology," Hamlin said.

"It was needed. Obviously, the other side doesn't want to hear it, it doesn't make their day any better. It was important for me to get what my thought process and feelings were out there."

Hamlin reiterated that he didn't wreck Elliott on purpose, that he was only trying to rough him up enough to get by.

"Everyone was sliding around quite a bit [on the restarts] and there was just a huge lack of grip out there to begin with," Hamlin said. "Where I tried to go in the corner and get to him, I got to him way sooner than I thought I was going to and it spun around.

"It's racing. Racing has had wrecks for many, many years and I don't see where this is entirely that much different. The stakes are high for sure and it's high for everyone. It's equally high for us as the 24 [of Elliott] and it also was for the 2 [of Brad Keselowski] who got knocked out of the way."

It's not like Hamlin came out as a big winner at Martinsville. Hamlin was later shoved -- but not wrecked -- by teammate Kyle Busch, who went on to take home the Martinsville grandfather clock that goes to the winner.

Hamlin was still able to finish seventh while Elliott finished 27th. With two races left in the semifinal round of eight, Hamlin is eight points out of advancing, Elliott is 26.

So it's quite easy to see why Elliott felt frustrated and wronged.

Hamlin and Elliott weren't the only ones angry with each other after Martinsville. Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney traded words and parting jabs that appeared somewhat playful but hard to discern.

"We weren't happy with each other," Blaney said Friday. "Both of us had our conversations and what we were upset about. I felt like we handled it fine. It was a stern talking to.

"I have a lot of respect for Kevin. He helped me a lot when I got started a couple of years ago. It is just Martinsville racing pretty much. We had a talk and I think we are fine. I am sure we are over it. Those [jabs] were just to reassure that we were good."

The highlight of the jabs had people talking. The Elliott-Hamlin anger had people cheering and booing.

"I can't even remember the last time I had seen anything like that or witnessed anything like that -- we have seen it before, but boy it's been a while," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "It was really a magical moment, I thought, for anybody that likes racing.

"It was really cool."

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