Denny Hamlin Escalates War of Words With Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin has had an adversarial relationship with Hendrick Motorsports drivers for years. This season has been no different. This week, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver took his antagonism to another level, literally, when he went after HMS Vice Chair Jeff Gordon in response to the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s critical remarks from the week before.
Denny Hamlin and his adversarial relationship with HMS drivers
Denny Hamlin and HMS drivers have had a rocky relationship for years. Chase Elliott fans remember their driver getting spun by the No. 11 at Martinsville in 2017.
Fast forward four years later on the same track. Alex Bowman fans weren’t happy with the JGR driver when he showed his displeasure with the No. 48’s late-race move by interrupting his victory celebration and calling him a hack in his post-race interview.
Last year William Byron was frustrated with Hamlin at Texas and spun the three-time Daytona 500 winner under caution.
That brings us to this year.
Elliott and Kyle Larson have both been at odds with the 42-year-old driver. The 2020 champ didn’t hide his anger with Hamlin for a move at Charlotte and retaliated by hooking the car into the fence. It earned him a one-race suspension.
And the 2021 champ has had multiple on-track run-ins with someone considered to be one of his good friends at both Kansas and Pocono. The latter resulted in Larson admitting that he didn’t want to meet face-to-face with his friend because it would only make him more frustrated.
Jeff Gordon calls Hamlin a ‘distraction’
Enter Jeff Gordon.
The four-time champion hasn’t competed since 2016. But he still has opinions. Gordon shared them last week during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio while discussing Hamlin and his role as NASCAR’s villain.
“What I do agree with is Denny is trying to do things to stir up conversation,” Gordon said. “To get people, at least having an opinion, right? Whether it’s a positive or a negative one, you have an opinion. And the fact that he is embracing that, I’ll give him kudos all day long. Go for it. I wouldn’t want that to be one of our drivers.”
The show co-host then pressed Gordon as to why.
“Because it’s too controversial. To me, it’s a distraction. I feel like I want our drivers to go and build a fan base by winning races and by being themselves, but not doing things. And I think Denny is being himself to a certain degree, but I think he’s also kind of — it’s like an alter ego as well.
“Again, I want other guys in the sport to do stuff like that. If they come to Hendrick Motorsports — and you can call us stiff. You can call us whatever you want. But we’re running a business and a business is to win races first, take care of your sponsors, and let the sponsors market you. Let the sport figure out how to market you. Build your brand through who you are on social media and be the best you that you can be.
“But, if you really want to go to the race track focused on winning races, it’s hard to do that when you have a lot of distractions. If Denny thrives on that, great. I just don’t think that it’s healthy within the organization when you have four drivers and you’re going into meetings together and you’re talking about how you go to the next race to win when you’re having to deal with some of those things.”
Hamlin responds to Gordon
On this week’s Actions Detrimental podcast, Gordon’s remarks were unsurprisingly a hot topic of conversation and, as expected, Hamlin didn’t hold back.
“That sounds like a guy I don’t want to go to war with,” Hamlin began. “He’s like, ‘Hey I’ll go to war, but you get up front.’ Jeff Gordon said that? That is how to stunt NASCAR growth 101, is say, ‘Oh, that’s too controversial for us. Call us stiff.’
“He likes it. He thinks it’s a distraction if it was on his team. Well, thank God I don’t drive for him. Has he been watching a race in the last 12 weeks?” Hamlin asked referring to his recent success, which includes eight top-five finishes and a pair of wins.
After talking about how HMS drivers are marketed, Hamlin addressed Gordon’s thoughts about going into a competition meeting.
“What is a distraction? That I’m getting booed? I go in Monday and I’m a professional because that’s what professionals do. They go into a meeting and they act professional. I think he’s been to one too many Burning Mans.
“He’s basically saying I want them to be tidy, not controversial. I couldn’t disagree more. I’m glad I drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. I’m glad I run my team the way I run my team because I will never run my team saying things like that. That’s his opinion. He’s allowed to have that opinion but certainly think that is the absolute wrong way to go if you want star power in this sport.”
Hamlin has proven taking controversial positions and playing the role of villain works for him. Now if he can go and win that elusive championship, he just might convince doubters like Jeff Gordon that it’s not a bad approach.