Denny Hamlin made himself a very unpopular man at the end of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville. With an opportunity to get the win and advance to the Championship Four, Hamlin slammed into the back of Chase Elliott and sent him into the wall.
Hamlin wasn’t able to get the win, he was nudged and passed by teammate Kyle Busch (who did win) and crashed across the finish line with most of the field, finishing 7th. While he failed to win, that didn’t stop Hamlin from receiving the wrath of Elliott and his fans, even one bonehead fan who went too far.
After Hamlin and Elliott had words right after the race, Hamlin claimed in his postrace interview with NBCSN that he didn’t try to wreck Elliott on purpose and that everyone else was wrecking everyone else. Hamlin then remarked about how he had Elliott’s tires off the ground so usually that indicates the driver giving the shove is going way too fast and is trying to wreck the person and the driver receiving the shove doesn’t have control of their car and is wrecking.
It’s kind of hard to claim innocence in one sentence and then acknowledge you lifted the rear tires off the ground of the driver in front of you. And after the fans left and things calmed down at the track, Hamlin took responsibility and apologized on Twitter.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) October 30, 2017
“I’ve raced nearly 10,000 races since I was 7. Today was the first time I’ve ever spun the leader. I regret the outcome because it was not intentional the way it turned out but I’m responsible for my own car and take blame. Nothing I say now can turn back the clock but it’s a life lesson and hope no kids out there who aspire to race thinks that’s the way you should do it. It’s becoming a normal in our sport now and I hate that I’m now in the discussion as a guilty party but I’ll move on and hope Chase, his team and fans will accept my apology.”
Denny Hamlin has more than 400 MENCS starts and has 31 wins. Throughout Hamlin’s NASCAR career, I have never known him as a dirty driver. And I don’t have any reason to believe that what Hamlin said was anything short of sincere and honest. I really do feel that once the adrenaline wore off and he got a sense of what he did, Hamlin felt terrible.
Having said that, while Hamlin himself isn’t a dirty driver, what he did at Martinsville was dirty. It’s not going to taint his entire racing career but it’s certainly going to be remembered for a long time. And while Hamlin did the right thing and apologized, hopefully he doesn’t believe that this automatically goes away in the eyes of many. He did the best he could do to maintain damage control but I imagine Chase Elliott, his team and his fans aren’t going to be as forgiving. And Elliott could pay him back by the end of the season and make sure Hamlin doesn’t win the championship either. Hamlin’s teammate Matt Kenseth did the same to Joey Logano two years ago.
Hamlin can apologize all he wants, it’s not going to change the fact that he cost someone the chance at his first career MENCS win and a shot at a championship. On the other hand, a shot at a championship was why Hamlin did what he did. It’s the NASCAR Playoffs and it’s high stakes. In the moment, it’s certainly understandable what Hamlin did, despite not supporting that. That’s the nature of the beast and if we trash Hamlin for what he did, we have to look at ourselves as fans and realize that this is a necessary evil to get the kind of late season excitement and drama that we had at Martinsville. Denny Hamlin isn’t the first person to be in a situation like this and certainly won’t be the last, maybe not even the last this season. Drivers doing things they wouldn’t normally do any other time of the year because of what’s on the line, that’s what the NASCAR Playoffs are all about.