Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 was nothing if not entertaining. There were caution flags galore, impressive spins and even a lengthy lightning delay.
And even after the sun went down, the heat turned up. Because deep in the final stage of the race, Denny Hamlin and William Byron got into it on the track.
Both drivers entered the race hoping to cement their place in the Round of 8. As the race wore on, it seems their patience with each other wore thin.
The beef started simmering around Lap 269, when race leader Martin Truex Jr.’s night came to an end after his right front tire gave out, forcing him into a wreck.
Battling for second were Hamlin and Byron. They got up close and personal with one another. Hamlin nudged Byron toward the wall out of Turn 4. Byron had a close shave; he just avoided making contact with the wall.
Although it appeared that Hamlin tried lifting to prevent Byron from going into the fence, Byron wasn’t too pleased.
Truex’s crash brought out the caution flag. And as racers worked around the track under pace laps, Byron let his frustration be known.
Byron slammed into the back of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin spinning.
He had some choice words regarding Hamlin’s move, as well:
Hamlin hoped to get Byron back. He had his chance shortly thereafter, making contact with Byron while still under caution.
Hamlin received a penalty for his move, dropping all the way to 15th. Byron’s penalty? Nothing.
That added to Hamlin’s annoyance:
The in-car radio caught Hamlin asking his team a rather “innocent” question about a teammate wiping a hypothetical driver out in the final race of the season.
Despite both finishing in the top 10, Hamlin and Byron wouldn’t interact with one another again on the track. However, both had plenty to say during post-race interviews.
Byron acknowledged that he intentionally rammed into Hamlin, saying that his car made serious contact with the wall — a maneuver that generally can end the race for most drivers.
But he stopped short of saying he wanted to spin Hamlin out.
Hamlin’s view of things was similarly contentious. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 car said he didn’t think he made contact with Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 car, so he was surprised that Byron came at him the way he did.
“I tried to wreck him back,” Hamlin said post-race.
“I keep hearing these guys, but I’ll just add him to the list of guys when I get a chance, they’re going to get it.”
Hamlin has no problem leaving his mark on those he feels have wronged him. He sent Ross Chastain into the wall at Pocono earlier in the season — a move Hamlin implied was retaliation for Chastain hitting him at Gateway.
Hamlin left a cryptic message that day, one that may take on extra emphasis given Byron’s actions Sunday.
“You only want to pay back when it counts,” Hamlin said, per The Athletic’s Jeff Gluck. “It’s going to have to be meaningful. It’s going to be on a meaningful day.”
NASCAR’s Scott Miller announced that race officials didn’t see Byron bump into Hamlin’s car until after the green flag was waved, meaning Byron could still receive punishment, per Gluck.
Hamlin didn’t appear too satisfied with that explanation, either.