DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney may be good friends off the track, but that didn’t keep them from tangling on the final lap of Tuesday night’s Busch Clash at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Both drivers were seeking their first win in the season-opening, non-points exhibition event that annually features NASCAR Cup Series pole winners and other designated stars of the sport.
Blaney was leading on the final lap when Elliott dove deep into the final chicane coming toward the checkered flag. Elliott’s Chevrolet made contact with the right-rear corner of Blaney’s Ford, sending Blaney spinning in a cloud of smoke a few hundred feet from the finish line.
As Elliott tried to get his car going quick enough to grab the win, Kyle Busch ducked underneath Elliott’s slowly-moving machine, stealing the victory in the final seconds and denying both young stars their moment in the sun.
Elliott crossed the line as the runner-up, while the last-corner spin relegated Blaney to 13th.
It was a moment that shocked many onlookers, considering the duo’s well-known friendship.
Understandably, neither driver was particularly happy about the circumstances Tuesday night that cost them both a shot at a Busch Clash win.
“I certainly wasn’t trying to wreck him. That’s a dumb question,” said Elliott of Blaney. “But obviously I was thinking that I could pass him and win the race, or I wouldn’t have done it. I was coming into a tight corner there, and I drove in so hard to the right that my angle was really bad. I just had to stop, really, to try to make the corner. At that point we were side-by-side trying to stay off the curb. We both know that the curb, you don’t want to hit any more of it than you have to.
“I hate it. Like I said on TV there, I certainly don’t want to wreck him out of anybody.”
Blaney didn’t necessarily cast blame on Elliott, but it didn’t mean he enjoyed the final outcome, either.
“Obviously, he didn’t mean to wreck me. But I ended up wrecked. It’s kind of just what it is,” noted Blaney. “Of course, you never mean to wreck anybody, usually. I know he didn’t mean to. But (he) drove off in there pretty deep. Personally, he wasn’t going to make the corner, I don’t think. It was going to be very hard for him to do it. It’s just a shame that we ended up getting turned around.”
In spite of his friendship with Elliott, Blaney said those thoughts didn’t cross his mind down the stretch. If anything, Blaney admitted that his own mistakes gave Elliott the chance to be in the picture at all.
“I didn’t do the best job on the white flag (lap) after I got by him. I didn’t do a great job of getting away from him,” Blaney recalled. “I kind of missed turn one, let him get to me in (turn) three there, then in (turn) five as well. I just couldn’t put a crazy, clean lap together. I hit the mud real bad. I thought I was in a good spot out of six, then I hit the dang mud on the bus stop at the back and let him get right to my bumper. That just set it up.
“We’re really good friends off the race track, but we’re both really hard competitors and we race each other really hard,” Blaney added. “I knew he would make a big move. Any competitor would. If you don’t go in there trying to win the race, what are you there for? It’s just a shame that it got us wrecked. We’re just as hard competitors as we are good friends. That’s the way it is. I race everyone the same.”
Elliott did have a conversation with Blaney after the race in an attempt to smooth over the situation.
“I just apologized,” Elliott said. “If you’re going to do (the bump-and-run), at least you need to go win. That’s the sure sign of not doing it on purpose … is when you don’t win the race after wrecking somebody. That’s just my bad. I tried to get that across. Obviously he’s frustrated, and he should be.
“It wasn’t awkward (to apologize). We’re friends. Friends can have tough conversations,” Elliott continued. “I know he knows I didn’t try to wreck him on purpose, just to hand the win to somebody else. He’s frustrated; he should be. He had the lead coming into the last corner and he didn’t win the race. I would be (frustrated) too.”
Put simply, Elliott’s biggest disappointment was that neither he nor Blaney left with the trophy.
“More than anything, I hate neither one of us won. You hate to hand it to somebody else like that.”
Elliott and Blaney will now turn their focus to Daytona 500 pole qualifying on the 2.5-mile Daytona oval Wednesday night, both trying to secure front-row starting spots for the 63rd edition of The Great American Race.