Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Larson, Who Was Right?

The HighPoint.com 400 was certainly a low point in the friendship of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

While Hamlin was gunning for his 50th career victory and a record seven wins at Pocono Raceway, he pushed Larson out of the way and into the wall in the process. It’s not the first time that we’ve seen the physical side of the sport dictate a win or damage a relationship on or off the track.

Was Larson justified in his response afterward to Hamlin’s aggressive move that ended up relegating Larson from the lead to a 20th-place finish? This week Vito Pugliese and Garrett Cook pick apart the pass and the aftermath in 2-Headed Monster.

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Happy Hour: Will Denny Hamlin Get Payback From Kyle Larson?

Same Names, Similar Outcomes

If you had to name three drivers who dominated the headlines the last few years, you’d likely come up with Ross Chastain, Hamlin and Larson. Each of them is inexorably linked to each other, given their run-ins over the last couple of seasons.

However, there is another reason why you’d naturally think of them.

They’re the same guy.

Larson is usually pretty reserved when he wins a race and usually doesn’t have much negative to say if something goes wrong. Sunday (July 23) at Pocono, he had some choice words for his friend Hamlin, and the way that he raced him on the final restart.

You can review the replays all you want to see if there was contact (there was), despite Hamlin’s best attempt at gaslighting and saying he didn’t think there was. The pass itself I don’t really have an issue with. Larson left a large opening on the bottom, and Hamlin used all of the track to get position on him in the middle of the corner. He then leaned on Larson a little bit and pushed him up out of the groove.

If anything, that’s kind of on Larson for leaving too much room and assuming Hamlin wouldn’t use every inch of the racetrack to execute the pass. To me, it wasn’t much different than the incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last season between Larson and Bubba Wallace coming off of turn 4. Larson used up all of the track and put Wallace in a bad spot, forcing him up out of the groove and into the wall at the exit of the turn.

And it wasn’t even for the lead.

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That wasn’t the only time Larson executed less than sportsmanlike maneuvers on the track. He ran Justin Haley into the inside barriers at the Los Angeles Coliseum before the season even started, and made a wild block on his teammate Chase Elliott at Auto Club Speedway.

So that’s three incidents in 2022 just off the top of my head; not saying that it justifies Hamlin’s action, but the response to similar incidents with Chastain and Hamlin in their respective highlight reels seems a bit incongruous to say the least.

Hamlin temporarily won last year’s Pocono race in an almost carbon copy result to this year’s scrum with Larson. Granted it was a bit more pointed given their run-ins earlier in the year, but that had to have been under consideration amongst the brain trust of the No. 5 team I’d imagine. Everyone can prattle on about championship points and stage wins, but that was also for his 50th career win, rare air that some of the sport’s legends and Hall of Fame members haven’t achieved.

While it wasn’t the cleanest pass I’ve seen for a win, we’ve all seen a lot worse – many of which are celebrated and played back constantly in marketing montages. It wasn’t a bump-and-run, he didn’t lift his rear tires off the ground, and he certainly didn’t just hook him into the wall as Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott did to Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600.

He got alongside the No. 5, pushed up against him a little, and forced him to lift or stay in it and try to keep it off the wall. Obviously, the latter happened and elicited the response you’d expect from the crowd for one of the more polarizing drivers in the field.

There’s also a team rivalry aspect brewing here between HMS and Joe Gibbs Racing. The two largest and most dominant teams are having some regular run-ins with each other and are creating a bit of a rivalry. You could sense that was happening within the Chevrolet pecking order when Rick Hendrick publicly questioned how Chastain was going to keep getting away with wrecking their racecars. With Kyle Busch leaving JGR, there’s a bit of a power vacuum within the TRD camp, and Hamlin looks to be willing to do whatever it takes to fill it.

Regardless of your take on it, the fact that we’re heading to one of Hamlin’s home state tracks in Richmond Raceway this weekend, and if there’s any ill will lingering, you’re likely going to see it manifest itself on Sunday. – Vito Pugliese    

The Cream of Hamlin Hypocrisy Rises To The Top

After a year of being the victim of Chastain’s perceived recklessness, the shoe is now on the foot of Hamlin, for better or for worse. Sunday in turn 1 at Pocono, Hamlin made a conscious choice to slide into Larson. Larson’s day was ruined and Hamlin went on to win his 50th career NASCAR Cup Series race.

Instead of owning the situation, instead of saying, “Hey, that’s what you do for the win” Hamlin simply said he gave Larson a lane and Larson ruined his own race.

For all my wrestling fans out there, it was reminiscent of Vince McMahon’s “Bret screwed Bret” speech following the controversial end of Bret Hart’s title match against Shawn Michaels in Montreal in 1997.

Just like McMahon, Hamlin has come off as a villain, taking a dirty win at the expense of his friend. Just like McMahon, Hamlin is the clear hypocrite in this situation.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Villain Role Suits Denny Hamlin Fine

For an entire season, Hamlin lambasted Chastain for doing exactly what he did, and in a moment of cruel irony, he used the same move on Chastain last season to get a win at Pocono. Hamlin was later disqualified, but that’s a long story for another time.

Hamlin correctly crusaded on social media for Elliott to be suspended after right-hooking him into the wall at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this season. This is not the same situation, but the fact remains, Hamlin had been racing very hard and had attempted to bully his way by the reigning most popular driver for several laps.

That’s not me saying Elliott was in the right. Of course he wasn’t. Hamlin was the victim in that situation. But what if Elliott had simply spun him into turn one instead?

I know Kyle Petty has had beef with Hamlin for the better part of almost two decades. But he is absolutely right when he commented on Hamlin’s lack of remorse and respect when it came to what happened with the 2021 Cup champion.

“Denny can’t be the victim. We played his radio. He was the victim. He puts himself in the victim position,” Petty said during NBC Sports’ post-race coverage.

“You’re not the victim here, Denny Hamlin.”

“And when we looked at this one and we heard what Kyle Larson said, he said ‘Denny’s always right, all his buddies know it.’ And he laughed about it, because he knows Denny’s not going to apologize for this.”

If anyone knows about how Hamlin behaves when he feels slighted by a competitor in the way he slighted Larson, it’s Petty. At Dover Motor Speedway in 2007, Hamlin drove straight into Petty after he felt he was roughed up by Petty earlier in the event. Both cars were destroyed, along with Clint Bowyer, who was collateral damage in the chaos.

Did Hamlin apologize? No. Was he disciplined in any way by NASCAR? Again, no.

Martinsville Speedway, 2017. Hamlin vs. Elliott, round one. Elliott was in a position to get his long-awaited first win, and Hamlin was hot on his heels. Then, with three to go, Hamlin sent it into turn 3, and dumped Elliott. Elliott was unhappy. He door slammed Hamlin several times on the cool-down lap after Busch ended up winning.

The two came to pit road, and Elliott confronted Hamlin. If you watch the video of that exchange, you can see that Elliott is flat-out telling Hamlin that he wrecked him.

And what is Hamlin doing?

Denying he did anything wrong. Pleading to Elliott that he didn’t wreck him. Classic Hamlin. Earlier this season, at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin tagged Larson on the final lap and put him into the wall to win. That was a little less egregious, but again, he showed no remorse.

I honestly hate that this happened. Hamlin is far and away one of the very best drivers this sport has ever seen. He has won the sport’s biggest race three times. He’s got 50 wins, which is more than Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott and Mark Martin. He’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and he’s great for the sport with his podcast and his social media presence.

I respect everything he’s accomplished and all the accolades he’s received have been earned, not given.

But in my eyes, he’s got a hypocrisy problem and was in the wrong yet again. – Garrett Cook

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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Christopher

Personally I have no problem with how Hamlin raced Larson. I do have a problem with Hamlin not just saying that’s racing, he was going for the win, tough luck for Larson.

DoninAjax

That is not what Hamlin says when the driving suit is on another driver.

Hamlin in his interview after the event:: “He was going for the win and I can understand why he knocked me into the wall.”

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