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Chase Elliott vs. Kyle Larson: NASCAR Cup Series Rivalry Explained
The Hendrick Motorsports drivers are two of the league’s brightest stars, but just because they're teammates doesn't mean they haven't had their moments of tension.
To be an elite competitor in the NASCAR Cup Series, you have to do so many things right. Whether it’s forging an unflappable temperament or executing a perfectly timed pitstop, success in the top flight of stock car racing requires equal parts skill and guts, but even then, there are no guarantees. With razor-thin margins separating feast from famine, even the tiniest of moves could turn a dream day into a disaster, creating a powder keg of emotions that can erupt at a moment’s notice. The pressure on each individual driver means explosive rivalries are born in an instant, able to turn friends into frenemies on and off the track. Even teammates can succumb to the stress of chasing success and, when that happens like it did for Hendrick Motorsports’ star wheelmen Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott in the 2022 Cup Series season, the world takes notice.
What ignited the rivalry between Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott in 2022?
During the second race of the season at Fontana, Larson, Elliott and Joey Logano were all jockeying for the lead with just 20 laps left, but as Elliott rolled to the outside to make a move, Larson strafed wide to block Elliott’s advance, bouncing Elliott's No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro into the wall. While Larson cruised into Victory Lane to enjoy his big win, getting fenced by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate ultimately ruined Elliott’s day, sending him to the back of the pack for a dismal 26th-place finish.
While Elliott’s not one to lose his cool and go nuclear often, he unleashed an unfiltered, uncensored torrent of anger against Larson over his team radio. Judging by the expletive-peppered rant that includes Elliott calling Larson a “stupid motherf---er,” the 27-year-old native of Dawsonville, Georgia was none too pleased with Yung Money’s dicey move. Separate video captured an animated Elliott seemingly rant about the incident to Rick Hendrick and HMS president Jeff Gordon.
“I had no clue that he was even coming,” detailed Larson in his post-race press conference at Fontana, according to Sportscasting. “I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back on the lead lap and back into contention for the win, but [it was] just an honest mistake.”
According to FanBuzz, Larson met up with Elliott to apologize for the incident – one that No. 5’s spotter Tyler Monn ultimately accepted was his fault.
“Today I made a mistake,” Monn wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Larson spoke about his conversation with Elliott away from the track, hailing their sit down at the time as a positive experience.
"It was good to have a conversation and good to hopefully move along from it," Larson revealed. "It went well. Honestly, better than I anticipated. He's [Elliott] a good teammate, and I'm going to do my part to be a great teammate each and every week, and hopefully, we never have any instances happen like what happened last week."
Well, hoping clearly only gets you so far.
What happened between Larson and Elliott at Watkins Glen?
A final restart at Watkins Glen in August did not go according to plan for Chase Elliott, as Larson ran him wide into Turn 1. With only five laps to go, Larson’s aggressive driving forced Elliott out of the lead, which he had been sharing with Yung Money. Elliott fared better this time around, earning a fourth-place finish. Still, Elliott silently seethed as he congratulated his Hendrick Motorsports teammate on his second win of the season.
"Congratulations, you did a great job," responded Elliott when he was asked about what he would say to Larson, according to Insider. "Looking forward to going to [Daytona] next week."
When Larson was asked about how he would feel if the shoe were on the other foot, Larson acknowledged his controversial, late-race maneuver to edge out Elliott while also throwing a little shade as he pointed out his Hendrick teammate’s own risky gambit.
“I think if I was in his [Elliott] shoes, I would understand the risk that I’m taking, choosing the left lane also,” explained Larson. “Again, like I said, I’m not proud of it, but it was what I felt like I had to do to get the win.”
Where do things stand for Larson and Elliott this season?
Thanks to an unfortunate snowboarding incident that sidelined him for six weeks, Elliott has been mostly relegated to watching as Larson’s dominant run in the 2023 Cup Series season continues to take shape. Yung Money’s current rank of 10th in the standings doesn’t come close to reflecting how productive of a year he’s had thus far. Sure, Larson’s two wins, five top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes are impressive but, had a slight twist of fate gone his way a couple more times this year, and he could easily have racked up double the amount of wins.
Prior to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. securing his first victory, it was Larson who was in position to take home the checkered flag at the 2023 Daytona 500. A mechanical issue at Auto Club Speedway – one of his best tracks – derailed his efforts, and a late-race caution in Las Vegas opened the door for William Byron to notch a win. Phoenix Raceway wasn’t much different and, despite leading on the overtime restart, Larson again came up short to Byron, placing fourth. A wreck with Ryan Preece at Bristol ended the dirt champion’s day and, though he had a noticeably faster car at Dover, a wreck caused by Ross Chastain foiled his day there while a dust-up with Denny Hamlin bumped him down to a second-place finish at Kansas. Darlington looked like it was solely his before the Watermelon Man’s antics again caused a wreck that dropped Larson into 20th place.
Still, it was the clinic Larson put on at the NASCAR All-Star race at North Wilkesboro just last month that Elliott truly noticed. Despite starting deep in the field, Larson led a whopping 145 laps out of the 200-lap event, even zipping past Elliott and through the rest of the field after the No. 5 was hit with a speeding penalty on his first pit stop. According to NBC Sports, Larson capped off his convincing win by finishing a full 4.5 seconds faster than Bubba Wallace second-place time.
In a sign of genuine sportsmanship, Elliott praised Larson for his incredible performance behind the wheel after the race.
"A dominant performance should be celebrated just as much as a close finish, in my eyes some weeks," Elliott noted of Larson, according to Sportskeeda. "They're not always going to be barn burners, and that's okay. It still doesn't take away from the fact that it's still very difficult and these races are very hard to win, so that should always be celebrated regardless of what the race looked like."
Game recognizes game.
Is a feud between Larson and Elliott good for NASCAR and fans of the Cup Series?
To put it bluntly: absolutely. Competition evolving into rivalries and even feuds will always be good for NASCAR because it creates easily relatable storylines that help captivate audience. Watching bad blood between drivers bubbling to the surface is as much of a reason to watch the sport as any.
Steve Letarte, NBC analyst and former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., explained after Watkins Glen last year why the fans are the real winners of any burgeoning rivalry between Larson and Elliott.
“If I'm the race fan, I should be applauding what I just saw out of Kyle Larson,” Letarte said, according to Insider. “Because the day Kyle Larson doesn't drive into Turn 1 to win this race, then we have a whole conversation to talk about with these four-car organizations."
"What I love is they're teammates," added Letarte. "They share information. We have all these buzzwords. But when they put helmets on, they're race car drivers."
It might not be a knock-down, drag-out fight but, as long as Larson and Elliott remain atop the Cup Series mountain as two of its brightest stars, don’t expect them to pull any punches when it comes to their on-track battles.