The Joe Gibbs Racing driver visited with the media in a preview of Sunday’s title race at Phoenix, and he talked about his own recent feud with Alex Bowman, the other headline-making conflict with Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott that brewed for more than a month, and how in the future, drivers need to resume self-policing, which includes crashing another driver to earn respect.
Denny Hamlin gets wrecked at Martinsville by Alex Bowman
At Martinsville, Denny Hamlin had a bad case of deja vu. He had led the race for most of the final 100 laps with Alex Bowman, his closest pursuer. With seven laps to go, the Hendrick Motorsports driver drove hard into the corner, got loose, made contact with Hamlin’s left-rear, and sent him up into the outside wall.
Understandably upset, the three-time Daytona 500 winner immediately responded after the race by driving his car to the finish line where he confronted the victorious Bowman, flipped him the double-bird, then drove off. Several minutes later, an angry Hamlin dropped an f-bomb during the live interview and called the HMS driver a hack.
Flashback a few months to August and the Cup race on the Indianapolis road course. Hamlin was leading in the race’s final restart when he exited turn 1 wide and pushed Briscoe into the grass. The rookie driver cut off turn 2 and returned to the track directly behind Hamlin. Moments later, Briscoe spun out the No. 11. The pair had a heated but civil conversation on pit road after the race.
Two races. Two younger drivers taking out Hamlin and ending his chances at victory.
Denny Hamlin says drivers need to start self-policing to earn respect
Some might say Hamlin has an issue with other drivers respecting him. After his most recent issues with Alex Bowman at Martinsville on Sunday, it was understandable reporters during Championship 4 Media Day wanted to follow up and get his thoughts on the incident.
The JGR driver described why he was upset by the late-race incident because it took away the momentum he had hoped to carry into the title race, addressed the booing fans and how it was confusing because he was the victim, and then interestingly veered off-topic, talking about the Kevin Harvick-Chase Elliott feud.
“There was controversy a few weeks ago, right,” Hamlin said. “And eventually one of the drivers just said, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m done taking your s***. Now I’m going to crash you.’ And I think that needs to probably happen a little bit more often to get some respect back. You know, obviously, NASCAR is not going to police this stuff. This is stuff that certainly fuels popularity. So the drivers have to get back to self-policing I think. And so that probably is going to have come through the hard way.”
Hamlin is wrong; NASCAR did intervene in Harvick-Elliott feud
Unfortunately, Hamlin’s suggestion that NASCAR is not going to police these on-track incidents is completely wrong. Last month, NASCAR officials did just that after Harvick wrecked Chase Elliott at the Roval when they met with 10 members from the two racing organizations.
Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson provided details of the meeting during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and said NASCAR tried, as Hamlin suggested, to let it play out through self-policing but was eventually compelled to intervene.
“In my opinion, what NASCAR does is they take the stance, and the stance I agree with, is they try to allow the competitors to compete and the competitors to be the ones who determine the outcome of the races and let the competitors take care of it on their own,” Gustafson said. “And I think that’s the way it should be. The story shouldn’t be NASCAR. It should be about the competitors racing and doing the best that they can to compete and be the best that they can be.
“The message that NASCAR has delivered is they tried to do the best job they could do in allowing it to happen, and they’re over it. Yeah, whatever way you want to look at it from there, but I think I commend them for allowing us to race, but I think they’ve had enough. They made that pretty clear.”
While NASCAR hasn’t publicly responded to Hamlin’s remark suggesting that drivers take actions into their own hands, you can be sure those at the top took note of his comments and will be keeping a watchful eye on his future actions with Bowman or another driver should a new conflict arise. And Hamlin will have no one to blame but himself.