When you’re a kid, you’re always taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s a simple enough theory, and certainly nothing new; there’s plenty of examples that play out upon the public stage each day that prove its worth.
Too bad Kyle Petty and Denny Hamlin chose to contribute to that growing pile of regrettable actions rather than take the high road. Although if one thing was clear after a wild Sunday at Dover, it was that the two couldn’t avoid each other off the track or on it; as a result, they had no one to blame but themselves for causing a vicious wreck that left both drivers on the sidelines, their goals for the season thrown from feasible to far-fetched in the matter of five tenths of a second of contact.
It’s amazing how something as simple as a bunch of mangled sheetmetal can bring out the worst in people. As Petty took down the window net of Hamlin’s car, some 10 laps after both had their wrecked racecars taken to the garage, most reacted with shock and surprise at the way in which one of NASCAR’s most respected legends got busy, well, getting ready to kick some tail. With any number of nasty expletives followed by a not-so-nice smack on the helmet, Petty proved that charity work and all-around goodwill is never a cure-all when it comes to eliminating such basic emotions as anger and frustration.
“We were a little bit loose. I guess it’s my fault. I watched the Busch race yesterday and I knew Denny was sick,” said a disgruntled Kyle, laps down when he found himself hit from behind by the front-running Hamlin on Sunday afternoon. “I just didn’t know he was hallucinating and needed three lanes to get up off the corner, because he ran all over us. I guess he is in a race by himself.”
Hamlin’s response to Petty’s aggression was pretty much what anyone would do when smacked across the head in the helmet, he fought back. Errr, make that he tried to. Going from being perched in the seat of his car to prancing about the garage in virtually no time flat, it took about six or seven crew members from the No. 11 team for one of NASCAR’s newest superstars to keep from putting his hands on Petty.
“Don’t smack me on the helmet,” Denny said later, referring to the final straw in the argument that really ticked him off. “You smack me on the helmet and I’m going to punch you in the face, bottom line.”
In all reality, both drivers had reason to punch each other out. Television replays showed that Hamlin plowed into the back of Petty’s No. 45, starting the wreck that took out both cars and severely damaged the No. 07 of Clint Bowyer behind them. Regardless of how Hamlin feels the accident started, the bottom line is that he was the one rear-ending the vehicle in front of him, and anyone who’s been in a basic accident on the road of real life can tell you who’s faulted in those situations – the guy who got in the back of you.
Of course, he doesn’t see it that way.
“You’ve got a car two seconds off the pace or whatever it may be,” said Hamlin.
“The biggest thing is that I know Kyle gets run over a lot, and a lot of the reason is that he’s so far off the pace.”
Now, Hamlin does have a point to a certain degree. The No. 45 car has fallen into the danger zone with the Top 35 in owner points simply because of Petty’s performances as of late. Since getting back into the car following a six-race stint announcing for TNT, he hasn’t finished better than 25th, racking up two DNFs and four finishes of 34th or worse to plummet down the standings. Meanwhile, teammate Bobby Labonte‘s been on a roll, with recent top-10 finishes once again casting the spotlight on how the No. 43 team always shows so much potential – and the No. 45 falls short.
Truth be told, if Petty was in any other organization he wouldn’t have kept his ride the last few years; going over 12 years without a victory will do a lot to hurt the resume.
It’s not that Petty has lost his role model image; it just has nothing to do with his performance on the track. And when you’re not performing under green, your future in the driver’s seat should always be put under yellow flag conditions.
However, Petty is still driving, like it or not, and despite being four laps down had as much right to the racetrack as anyone else. That’s what makes Hamlin’s further retort following the confrontation a little disconcerting:
“Yeah, I think a lot of it was his frustration over this whole Top-35 thing,” he said, “But we’re racing for bigger and better things. Hopefully, one day, if they get it turned around, I can exchange the favor. But right now, we’re the guys racing for the championship, so you know, heed a little bit.”
Hmm, heed? I guess whoever plays the New York Mets this week should just not show up; the Mets are the ones in playoff contention, so the division should simply be heeded to them. I guess Mark Martin should have dropped off the pace with five laps to go Sunday and heeded to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, they’re in the championship Chase, you know, and they could have used the extra spot.
You get the point. Hamlin can’t expect all 42 cars to move out of the way for him, any more than Petty can expect Hamlin not to react negatively when he pulls down a window net, starts pointing fingers and all but challenges the kid to a fight. It’s certainly high drama and entertainment that takes you back to the olden days of NASCAR, don’t get me wrong; but while everyone else is laughing and talking at the water cooler today, the incident hardly did either one any favors.
Hamlin’s championship hopes are all but dead – he’s 158 back of the lead with eight races left – and Petty’s team now looms just 106 points ahead of the No. 22 team which sits 36th in owner points.
“It’s a shame that a guy with that much talent has to drive like that,” said Petty of the whole scenario.
No, Kyle; it’s an even bigger shame both your reputations took a hit for an accident that was easily avoidable. You’d expect this type of behavior from a Robby Gordon or a Stewart, perhaps; but not from these two.
Not with so much on the line.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.