PLANO, Texas – Denny Hamlin felt his apology tweet to Chase Elliott following their contact and Elliott’s subsequent late-race spin from the lead in the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway was absolutely necessary.
“I think anytime I’ve seen things like that in the past and someone has an arrogance or a sense of no compassion to the guy that you just took out, it bugged me a little bit,” Hamlin said during a break during Toyota Motorsports Day at the company’s North American corporate headquarters in Plano, just outside of Dallas.
“So I felt there was a need for me to kind of issue an apology there because it was needed. Obviously, the other side doesn’t want to hear it. It doesn’t make their day any better, but I felt like it was important for me to get what my thought process and feelings were out there.”
Hamlin said he has yet to talk to Elliott since their heated on-track chat following the race, although he has said he’s reached out. However, he understood why the Hendrick Motorsports driver wouldn’t want to talk.
Elliott was leading at Martinsville with less than three laps to go in the scheduled 500-lap race when Hamlin, who had been on the No. 24’s bumper, initiated heavy contact and sent Elliott spinning up the track. The leader at the time, Elliott would finish the race 27th.
Hamlin assumed the lead, but finished seventh after losing ground on the final restart with some contact thrown his way as well. In the race, Elliott led 123 laps and looked to be closing in on that elusive first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and a berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both Elliott and Hamlin are among the drivers in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, which continues this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Racing has had wrecks for many, many years and I don’t see entirely where this is that much different,” Hamlin said. “The stakes are high for sure and it’s high for everyone. It’s equally as high for us as it was for the 24 and it was also was for the 2 (Brad Keselowski), who got knocked out of the way. Unfortunately, it was an incident that people were upset about it.”
After the race, Elliott drove Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota up into the wall, and the two emerged from their cars on the track following the race and exchanged words.
“I think the biggest thing is I was aggressive as everyone was,” Hamlin said in explaining his perspective of the incident, even mentioning being bumped by teammate and eventual race winner Kyle Busch in the closing laps. “Anybody with the lead was knocked out of the way in those last four laps. I felt like it was ill-timed. It was poor execution on my part but obviously there was no intent there.
“Even though people are going to try and prod you into thinking that they can’t get into your mind and understand how you think. Unless you are in the moment, unless you’re there, no one will ever understand that but me. I know that there was no intent but it worked out bad for all parties involved.”
Could an incident such as the one at Martinsville lead to a change in how others race the Joe Gibbs Racing driver? Perhaps, but that doesn’t faze the 36-year-old Virginia native.
“How people race me is really no concern to me,” Hamlin said. “I’ll drive everyone the exactly same way I always drive them, Chase included. How they choose to race me is up to them. It’s everyone’s prerogative to race any way that they want to. We’ll do the best we can to run up front and not have to worry about that stuff.”
Entering Texas, Hamlin sits in seventh in the point standings, but just eight points behind Kevin Harvick for the final transfer spot into the Championship 4 with two races left in the round. Hamlin finished 25th in the spring race on the repaved 1.5-mile track.
“We honestly did not run very well here in the spring,” Hamlin said. “I’m optimistic that we’ve turned the corner on the 1.5-mile tracks. We’ve obviously been very fast on those tracks lately.”
While Hamlin has two career wins at Texas, he has not won on a 1.5-mile track this season, He does have five straight top-five finishes at intermediate-sized tracks dating back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.