Feud between Hamlin, Logano lives in past
March 15, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
That alone feels like progress given the way the two Sprint Cup Series drivers departed Bristol Motor Speedway one year ago -- after trading first sheet metal and then verbal accusations, all of it stoking a personal feud that would explode on the final lap in Southern California one week later. Ultimately one was left hospitalized, one was left vilified, and an icy bitterness formed between two competitors capable of contending for the championship at NASCAR's highest level.
Returning to Bristol's annual day race a season later, that frostiness appears to have dissipated as if broken up by a much-needed spring thaw. Hamlin and Logano don't exactly pal around, and they're far from best friends, but one year after the outbreak of one of the nastiest personal feuds in recent memory, the outright animosity has faded like the color from an old photograph -- you can sense it was once there, but it's hardly as vivid as it used to be.
"We're OK," said Hamlin, the Coors Light Pole Award winner for Sunday's race. "Still, we don’t talk or anything like that more than we should. Or really no less than we should, I would say. You can hold a grudge all you want, but it's not going to make you any faster or get you any closer to a championship. I'm bitter in ways, and in other ways it's been so long ago, and there are so many trials and tribulations between then and now, that I think I'm a better person now afterward, and I'm a better driver now than I was before. I think it gives you perspective on things when you sit out a little bit. You don’t want it to be because of physical reasons and things like that, but as far as my relationship with him, I treat him with respect on the race track, as I should."
The one-time teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing had experienced their differences before last year's Bristol race, engaging in a brief Twitter feud following a dispute over drafting in the Daytona 500. It made the jump from cyberspace to the race track at Bristol, where Hamlin -- unhappy with how Logano had raced him earlier in the event -- put the bumper to the Team Penske driver late in the race. Stinging over having another fast car and no result to show for it, Logano climbed out and marched straight to Hamlin's vehicle, sticking his head in the window opening and delivering choice words until crewmen pulled him away.
They traded shots in post-race interviews, and then again later on Twitter, and in a grand bit of coincidence found themselves side by side racing for the victory on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway the next weekend. The two cars made contact, and while Kyle Busch slipped past to win, Hamlin's vehicle veered down the track and slammed head-on into an inside wall not protected by the SAFER barrier. Hamlin was airlifted to an area hospital, and ultimately diagnosed with a fractured lumbar vertebra that forced him to sit out four full races and most of a fifth. Although Logano went on to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and enjoy the best season of his career, Hamlin's playoff hopes were done.
The bad blood thickened. Hamlin received a text message from Logano wishing him a speedy recovery, but it wasn't enough for a JGR driver who viewed the last-lap Fontana crash as an intentional act, and the recriminations continued to fly. And yet, Hamlin's injury and subsequent absence from the track seemed to cool things between two drivers who haven't had any issues since, and one year later view their feud as something living only in the past.
"I feel like we’re fine," said Logano, who will start fourth Sunday. "A year is a long time. It’s over now. I feel like we’ve moved on. Obviously, people are talking about it this week because it’s the one-year anniversary of the whole fiasco, but you live, you move on, and forget about things. You’re supposed to forgive and forget, and that goes both ways, so we both knew what we had to do, and I feel like we’ve moved on and we’re going from there."
Logano believes it was, of all things, a commercial shoot for Coca-Cola -- both drivers are sponsored by the soda brand -- that perhaps helped soothe the raw feelings on either side. It was one of those "road trip" spots featuring Hamlin, Logano and several other drivers making laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway in a mini-van. "We all sat in a van for about three hours," the Penske driver said, "so I felt like by the end of it, we all got along well."
While Hamlin wouldn’t go quite that far, it's clear the two have moved well beyond the awkward moments -- like being parked next to one another in the garage area, or sitting near one another in the driver's meeting -- that can linger in a sport which moves on from week to week regardless of whatever personal differences competitors still might harbor. "You don't kill them with kindness, you kill them with silence," Hamlin said of such situations, whether it was with Logano or other drivers he feuded with during his short-track days.
"How can you express how upset you are with someone without punching them? I don't know," he added. "I don’t know how to do that. You just don’t say anything."
One year after their Bristol blow-up, it's clear the two have moved beyond that stage and are competing week to week just like any other competitors on the race track. If there's anything Hamlin wants to take a swing at now, it's Auto Club Speedway -- each season his engineer asks the JGR driver for the three tracks he wants to win at most, and this year there's a new facility topping the list. Denny Hamlin's feud with Joey Logano may be over, but his personal grudge against Fontana shifts into high gear next week.
"California is No. 1 simply because we never made it to the finish last year," he said. "While we had a great shot to win it, we never made it. It would feel like you do have some redemption, and it would make a great story."