Hamlin spun out by Harvick, plows into Dale Jr.
August 23, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Denny Hamlin has no problem being wrecked for the lead on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway. When the race is 100 laps away from even reaching the halfway point? He has a problem.
That was the case Saturday in the Irwin Tools Night Race, when Kevin Harvick turned Hamlin on the frontstretch during Lap 161, sending Hamlin's race-leading No. 11 Toyota spinning up high into Turn 1 in a wreck that also collected Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hamlin went from first place to out of the race for good, the anger boiling in his mind before manifesting itself in the form of a toss of his HANS device toward Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet.
"I'm trying to think of when I've been this mad in the past. Maybe never," Hamlin said after being checked and cleared from the infield care center. "I wish I had some kind of car left so I could show him the favor back. He's a good driver. He knows better.
"Mistakes happen in racing. Obviously, I believe Kevin made a mistake."
On that, both Hamlin and Harvick agreed. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver quickly apologized for the incident, saying he misjudged the situation. He had been all over Hamlin's bumper for several laps battling for the lead.
"It's totally my fault," he radioed to his team.
What really stung for Hamlin was that he felt he had one of his best cars of the year. Save for a 24th-place finish at Watkins Glen, Hamlin had a terrific six-week stretch entering Bristol.
He's won once this year, back in May at Talladega, and expected to make the trip to Victory Lane on Saturday once he realized how strong his car was.
"We had a good run going," Hamlin said. "I thought for sure after the first couple of runs that we were gonna win the race. We were really fast. We were on two tires there and could get away from the pack mostly.
"I know Kevin -- I think I know Kevin -- pretty well, and he's not going to just take someone out. I think it was just a misjudge, trying too hard too early when both of us had really fast cars. These short tracks are all about patience. I'm OK wrecking for the lead or getting taken out on the white-flag lap, but at this point? It's a bad situation."
Denny Hamlin throws his HANS device in frustration after a Lap 161 wreck.
Junior's No. 88 Chevrolet incurred heavy damage when he tried to slip by Hamlin along the top of Turn 1. It didn't work, and the sheet metal was peeled all the way back on the left side of his car when he got off the track.Earnhardt, who started 20th, had worked his way into the top 10 after taking two tires on a couple of pit stops.
The No. 88 team took the car behind the wall, where Earnhardt was scored 39th after Hamlin was officially ruled out.
"The first thing I saw was the No. 11 hitting the inside wall," Earnhardt said when rehashing the event with reporters. "There was a little bit of smoke so it was tough to judge the speed of his car coming back up the track. I thought I could go around the top and be alright, but I guessed wrong."
Earnhardt Jr. returned to the race at Lap 266, 103 laps down, in 39th place. He returned to the garage 20 laps later and retired from the race in the same position.
It's only his second DNF of the season. He finished 43rd at Texas.