In some ways, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway was a great day for Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Larson, coming off a frustrating Daytona 500 run, was able to dust off the cobwebs and secure the win at the Wise Power 400. However, that big victory in Fontana, California didn't come without a cost, as the driver of the No. 5 car sent his teammate Chase Elliott into the wall with 20 laps remaining in the race.
Elliott, obviously, wasn't too pumped about the run-in, and he immediately vented his frustration to his No. 9 team over his in-car radio.
"What the f*** is he doing, man? It wasn't even close," Elliott said. "It's probably going to break again before the end of the race. But I don't really give a f*** who is leading the race."
While Elliott didn't make any public comments regarding the incident immediately after the race, Larson appeared at a post-race press conference to give his side of the story.
"So, I didn't get through (Turns) 3 and 4 very well," Larson said. "Joey (Logano) did a good job on the bottom, and then we were side drafting each other, and I'm not even looking in my mirror at that point because all I'm worried about is Joey and I'm looking out of my A-post window. I had a run, so I went to peel off, and as soon as I peeled off, my spotter is yelling, 'Outside! Outside! Outside!' And I had no clue he was even coming."
Larson continued, "I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror. My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joey."
"It happened, and I hate that it did. I know they're upset. But we'll talk, and hopefully we'll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose."
Smoothing things over before a feud developed became a top priority for Hendrick Motorsports. After the race, Larson's crew chief Cliff Daniels spoke with Elliott's crew chief Alan Gustafson to "take his share of the responsibility."
"They're great teammates, always have been, and I know we're all good teammates together," Daniels said. "Like he said, that's nothing that (Larson) would ever do intentionally, and that's a tough racing deal. I don't blame Chase at all for what could have been the race-winning move, and he just told his side of the story."
In a tweet sent the night of the Auto Club race, Larson's spotter Tyler Monn tried taking responsibility for Larson's late-race actions, saying he was paying too much attention to Joey Logano's car.
Today I made a mistake. I will take full responsibility for what happen on track today. I was worried more about the 22 and not the 9. It was a late call on me it had nothing to do with Kyle.
— Tyler Monn (@TylerMonn) February 28, 2022
Even Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews chimed in on the Auto Club debacle, making it clear that he and other Hendrick higher-ups would work to patch things up between Larson and Elliott.
"Hopefully [Chase and Kyle] can get to a good spot and kind of step back and look at the data and really watch what happened there," Andrews said. "And then of course, as a group, Jeff Gordon, Chad (Knaus) and myself and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick, of course, we want to speak to them. We want to go to Las Vegas in a good spot."
Whatever was said behind closed doors seemed to get the job done, and there weren't any problems at the following weekend's Vegas race or for the next several months. However, in August, Larson and Elliott did have another run-in at the Watkins Glen race, with Larson making an aggressive move to secure the win and Elliott being on the losing end of said move. The higher-ups at Hendrick once again had to go into crisis mode to ensure things between their two top drivers were copasetic, and while there didn't appear to be any apparent bad blood between Chase and Kyle, they definitely hit a little bit of a rough patch in their relationship.
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