Hamlin focused on winning, not grudge
March 21, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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FONTANA, Calif. – Denny Hamlin conceded that he thought about last year’s race at Auto Club Speedway – specifically his final lap accident – for a brief portion of the first practice lap back at the track Friday.
"The only time I thought about it directly was going off into turn three on the first lap," Hamlin said. "The next time I came around it was an afterthought and I haven’t thought about it since."
The site of his near head-on collision inside that corner has now been reinforced with a SAFER barrier to absorb more of the shock that Hamlin’s body instead endured. He was taken by ambulance from the track and diagnosed with broken vertebrae which left the 23-time Sprint Cup Series winner sidelined for four races and part of a fifth, his title hopes finished two months into the 2013 season.
But instead of holding a grudge against Joey Logano, who he collided with triggering the accident, Hamlin insists he simply circled the Auto Club 400 on the this year’s schedule.
The best revenge would be a victory.
"This is a track we really want to perform well at," Hamlin said. "Redemption would be nice, so instead of retaliating, it would be great to end the day in Victory Lane."
Because it was the second consecutive week Hamlin and Logano had tangled, the accident fueled a feud that carried over to Twitter, veiled threats of retaliation and unmistakable bad blood between the two drivers.
Ironically, Logano and Hamlin have been assigned garage stalls right next to each other for the weekend. And while it makes great fodder for the press, both downplayed the intensity now a year later.
"We’re close in points, so I expected it," Hamlin said of the California close quarters. "For us it really didn’t matter too much. Really doesn’t change anything. I spoke the same number of words to Joey as I did my teammate Matt whose parked on the other side of me."
Logano went even further downplaying that there was any lingering uneasiness. He told reporters last week at Bristol, Tenn. – the track where the acrimony ignited on track in 2013 – that things had settled as far as he was concerned.
"I feel like we get along fine now," Logano said. "A year is a long time. It’s over now. I feel like we’ve moved on. Obviously, people were talking about it this week because it’s the one-year anniversary of the whole fiasco, but 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."
In terms of his health, Hamlin said he is not only fully healed from the back injury but, "I’m better than I was before the wreck."
"Physically I feel really, really good, actually," Hamlin said. "The best I’ve felt back-wise in a really long time, years and years."
Listening to Hamlin speak Friday afternoon, it’s evident his attitude is also in a good place. When asked directly if he would consider retaliation against Logano given the chance Sunday, Hamlin insisted that wouldn’t be his preference.
"Holding grudges takes away from the time you need to be preparing for the upcoming event," Hamlin said. "It’s hard enough to pass in these cars. You need to concentrate all the time. It’s a different mindset now. It’s not like it use to be. It’s a different kind of racing."
"It [last year’s race] was a bad weekend that affected rest of season. But you have to deal with the adversity and be stronger from it."
"I definitely said this was one of my top-three tracks that I’d like to win at," Hamlin said. "Maybe next year it’s not going to be on the top-three, but this particular year it is because it’s one year later for us.
"There’s a little bit of added focus for sure. There’s more drive, there’s extra motivation. Everything you can think of could put you at a competitive edge, you’ve got this weekend when you come to a track that you really want to perform well at."