FORT WORTH, Texas — Denny Hamlin’s “list” grew one name longer on Sunday evening at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran has made mental notes of several drivers who have crossed him this season — most notably No. 1 driver Ross Chastain — but there might be a new public enemy No. 24 in his eyes: William Byron.
Perhaps a bit testy after a day that saw ambient temps near 100 degrees and an hour-long rain delay that pushed the afternoon race to a finish under the lights, the pair exchanged some paint on track during a caution in the Final Stage resulting in Hamlin losing his position while under yellow and his temper on the radio.
Shortly before a Martin Truex Jr. tire issue brought out the caution on Lap 268, Hamlin and Byron battled for position near the front of the field. Though no contact was made in the initial brush, Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet was moved up the track enough to scrape the wall exiting Turn 2 and affect the performance of his car.
During the ensuing caution laps, Byron showed his displeasure to the 48-time Cup Series winner, nudging the No. 11 from behind … and spinning him out into the infield. NASCAR re-lined up Hamlin in seventh after being a bit more toward the front of the field, while electing not to penalize Byron for the incident.
“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our (safety) equipment,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said after the race. “The William Byron, Denny Hamlin thing we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass and by the time we got to the replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we’d gone back to green. But I’m not sure that that issue is completely resolved as of yet. So we’ll be looking at that when we get back to work.”
Hamlin was ready to take things into his own hands, however, if he had the chance.
“I’ll give him the penalty if he comes back to me,” Hamlin said to his team over the radio.
The No. 11 driver never got close enough to catch Byron’s No. 24 — he finished 10th to Byron’s seventh — and institute any immediate payback, but this one will certainly stick with the Virginia native.
“I got spun out under caution down the infield,” Hamlin said point blank on pit road following the race. “We got tight off Turn 2 and never made contact (with the 24) but it slowed both of our momentum and that was it. I can’t argue the rules with (NASCAR) inside the car and the team did everything they could to try to make a case but ultimately we went spinning through the infield under caution.”
Still just 24 years old but now in his fifth full-time Cup season, Byron is out to show he isn’t going to be raced a certain way anymore and isn’t keen on being muscled around on track by the sport’s longtime mainstays. The message to Hamlin was clear … if not a little more impactful than he intended.
“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn 2) and had really hard contact into the wall, car was vibrating,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was probably or definitely bent, but luckily, not fully broken so we were able to continue, but a lot of times that kind of damage is gonna ruin your race, especially that hard. Totally understand like, running somebody close, making a little bit of contact. But that was pretty massive.
“I didn’t mean to spin him out,” he continued. “I just meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure. And unfortunately, it happened the way it did. And, obviously, when he’s spinning I was like ‘Ah, I didn’t mean to do this,’ but it’s definitely frustrating.”
The problem for both now? They’re both title contenders, and there are still six races remaining before a champion is decided with plenty that could happen. Both drivers are above the elimination line with good prospects to make the Round of 8 and potentially beyond, and the book on this confrontation likely hasn’t concluded yet.
Given Byron claims he did not intentionally mean to spin Hamlin, it might be prudent of him to smooth things over in an attempt to stymie any potential retribution from Hamlin.
“I’m sure we’ll talk,” said Byron. “I mean, I feel like we both did some things and definitely wasn’t … I’m not going to be run like that. So yeah, that’s the message that I want to be received is that I’m not going to take stuff like that. So yeah, I don’t know. That’s really all it is. Obviously, didn’t mean to do what I eventually did, but I definitely felt like we’re kind of on the same understanding at least.”
Hamlin, no stranger to confrontation — especially at Martinsville, a Round of 8 track — might not be ready to accept that point of view.
“I’m not really sure (where things go from here with Byron), we’ll just kind of have to race him hard,” he said.
” … I mentioned on the radio, let’s just get a teammate to knock him out under caution in the (Championship 4). Certainly, it’s a precedent.”
The Round of 12 continues Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. ET with the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).