The No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet sits idle at the bottom of the track after a hard crash into the inside wall. Fumes pour from both the engine of the wrecked racecar, and driver Chase Elliott who waits patiently on the track for the field to pass. A single finger is waved towards Kyle Busch, who just ended Elliott’s bid at victory in the Toyota 500.
Rain begins to fall at Darlington Raceway, a fitting end for a hopeful night gone south in an instant for Elliott. The Hendrick Motorsports team is stunned wondering what if. Crew Chief Alan Gustufson and his team sit on pitroad with a glare of anger into Busch’s cockpit as the cars sit idle on pitroad. In the midst of the severity of what just occurred, an eerie quietness surrounds the pit area while teams await the storm. Fans were not in attendance, only adding to the spectral atmosphere in Darlington, South Carolina.
Denny Hamlin is declared the winner as rain intensifies at the track. He and his Fedex team may be the only people smiling on this Wednesday night. As Kyle Busch exits his racecar he is immediately greeted by Gustufson, who shares his displeasure with Busch and the No. 18 team as to what just took place.
Kyle Busch owns up to his mistake, admitting he ruined a promising night and potential win from Elliott. The former Hendrick Motorsports driver did not intentionally crash Elliott in the final laps, yet he knows his mistake is only the beginning of another long road of being the “bad guy” in NASCAR.
History Repeats Itself
In 2008 at Richmond International Raceway, Kyle Busch wrecked former Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. while racing for the lead in the final laps. Busch, who was already greeted by jeers week in and week out for being an aggressive driver who will do anything to win a race, just turned NASCAR nation against him in an instant that night in Richmond.
Wrecking anybody, whether intentional or not, will draw a reaction from the fans. Wrecking the driver voted “Most Popular Driver” by fans for 15 years straight from 2003 to 2017 will draw a tremendous roar any time Busch is at the racetrack. For years following that night, Busch was consistently the villain in the sport to many. Apologetic words do not change actions on the track.
Fast-forward 12 years to last night, Kyle Busch once again has crashed the Most Popular Driver in Elliott, who won the award the past two years. Sometimes history has a unique way of repeating itself.
Elliott fans are rightfully furious at what occurred on this gloomy Wednesday night. In a moment where emotions are on edge, a spike of shock and anger suppress any anticipation of Elliott celebrating in victory lane. Their driver came within seconds away from battling Hamlin for the lead into Turn 1, to being turned and crashing into the frontstretch wall. Many of his fans know this feeling all too well, while new fans tuning in experience this wave of emotion for the first time.
The pain of losing hurts, and Elliott is not happy with how this night turned out. However, this crash sparks a fuse and ignites a burst of reactions across the United States. Kyle Busch is the number one trend for hours on Twitter after the events unfold. Opinions flood news feeds, with many new fans suddenly having a driver to root for and despise in either direction. Busch’s aggression does not bode well with everyone, but it is these kinds of nights which build excitement in our sport. In a way, this pain of defeat and wave of emotions hurts so good.
Welcome to NASCAR.