In Defense of Denny Hamlin
Including a brief look into Hamlin’s feud history
When I sat down today, I intended to write a short and sweet article defending Denny from the wrath of NASCAR fans, the ‘crooked’ media, and himself on Twitter. There’s been a growing discontentment with Hamlin after wrecking Chase Elliott as Martinsville that’s propelling Hamlin to villain status in 2017.
I can’t bring myself to the conclusion that Hamlin’s a bad guy. I’ve watched the evolution of his career through 13 seasons and I’ve never considered him to be prone to wrecking my favorite driver. That’s typically the litmus test for whether a driver gets villain status in racing. “Is Kyle Busch likely to wreck my whomever I’m cheering for?”
If it’s Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski, the answer is a ringing yes and they race hard and sometimes reckless without apology. NASCAR needs one or two of those guys to play that role.
I’ll say this again before I go down into the netherworld, Denny Hamlin is not a bad guy nor a bad driver. First of all, you need to have the mentality, and Hamlin is way too even-keeled.
Also before I go on, Denny… stop defending yourself on Twitter. The more you bring attention to yourself, the more you open yourself up to cheap social media shots. Allow me to be your defender in the court of public opinion.
As my memory does serve me, Hamlin was wrecked out in only 6 races of his first five years in the Cup series. Outside of 2013 where Denny was wrecked out 5 times, Denny has never crashed out of a race more than 3 times in a year which also only happened once.
So the stats serve Hamlin well, but a true detective searches for the video evidence. And YouTube never lets any driver’s secrets stay in the shadows.
There is some video evidence that doesn’t show the best side of Hamlin, but not enough to say Denny is worth shaming for years to come. The point being, Denny’s not scot-free from criticism or blame. So I might not be the ideal public defender.
First off, before we go any further, this interaction needs to be seen by anyone who has an affinity for NASCAR or awkward interactions.
Tony Stewart with the clutch side-swipe from out of nowhere.
Go to 50 seconds in the video to see Denny Hamlin get on Danica’s rear and turn her. Waltrip says something very relevant here.
“You can bump me some places, but there are some places you can’t do that,” Waltrip said this was Harvick’s message to Logano. This was Danica’s message to Hamlin. Hamlin was not very receptive to it as the previous video shows, but not in a mean way, more of a, I don’t understand what you’re saying despite the clear words coming out of your mouth.
Now any driver whose first crash victim is Kyle Petty, I’m instantly a fan of, so I’m here for you Denny. Hamlin wrecked Petty in 2007. I love it.
Hamlin’s next feud also put him in the heroic position because he went toe to toe with Brad Keselowski in the Xfinity series.
When Denny was asked if NASCAR should take action against Keselowski who was known for his mean streak, Denny responded, “No, no, I’ll take care of him. I got him.”
At the 2009 Ford 300, Hamlin followed through. Hamlin spun Brad on lap 35.
Brad said after the race that Hamlin might not feel good about himself when he woke up the next morning to which Hamlin responded, “I feel great, it was well worth it.”
A feud with Brad Keselowski is to be expected if you’ve ever raced in NASCAR.
It was in 2010 when Hamlin started finding bumpers and quarter-panels. Hamlin spun Clint Bowyer at Dover when he drove straight into the back of him. Some fault can be put on Bowyer’s bad restart and Hamlin had a huge run on him but Hamlin didn’t check down to get out of Bowyer’s way.
Hamlin blocked Kyle Busch up into the wall during the All-Star race in what was a defensible move, but definitely much to the chagrin of Kyle.
In 2013 Hamlin began the Logano feud where he initiated it with a swift swipe of Logano’s rear sending Logano for a spin at Bristol. Logano and Hamlin wrecked each other at Fontana on the final lap which was a result of hard racing.
Pause. There are two different types of racing when driver’s get into each other. There’s hard racing, and then there’s reckless racing. The Fontana incident was hard racing, the Bristol wreck was somewhere in between. Not often is a driver completely reckless unless provoked.
“He’s an analyst, but is not a very informative one, because he doesn’t know anything.” This is a direct quote from Denny Hamlin about Kyle Petty. Once again Mr. Hamlin, I salute you.
Hamlin was famously involved in the 2014 Charlotte Motor Speedway fiasco where he and Keselowski had a tiff that ended up with Keselowski crashing into Kenseth when Kenseth’s restraints were off. Kenseth then assaulted Brad in one of NASCAR’s greatest television moments.
Then the 2015 Danica incidents happened at Daytona. Hamlin managed to wreck Patrick twice. Patrick is no stranger to wrecking or being wrecked, but Hamlin was mostly at fault in both scenarios. The practice wreck was just about completely his doing where the Budweiser duel Hamlin got Patrick loose.
Hamlin’s dumping Chase Elliott at Martinsville is easily his worst look. Hamlin has never really wrecked a guy that there are a lot of fans of. Elliott wasn’t yet at star status, but his martyrdom at Martinsville might’ve earned him some clout in fan circles. Elliott had the fastest car on the track all day and Hamlin took him right out at the end.
I have no doubt it wasn’t Hamlin’s intention to spin Elliott. I think all it comes down to is Hamlin dove into the corner trying to push Chase up and instead spun him out.
The verdict: Denny Hamlin has previously been the beneficiary in every NASCAR feud until he wrecked Elliott. Hamlin’s fought with Kyle Petty, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and a brief run-in with Austin Dillon. Basically, every driver that fans love to hate, Hamlin has had some sort of brush up with.
Hamlin is not the cleanest racer, but he’s certainly not a dirty one. The history isn’t there. Hamlin’s compilation of wrecks and off-track commentary is under a half-hour long compared to Keselowski and Kyle Busch who have 45 minutes and an hour plus of angry content. Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart are both up at about an hour and a half.
But more importantly than anything, my plea to the NASCAR faithful is to not turn on Hamlin as if he’s Satan on the speedways. I don’t expect the Denny hate to be long-term, but if Chase becomes a megastar, the sting could last a little longer.
But please Denny, if you’re listening, just keep a level head, keep it quiet, and roll quietly into next year. Or else I’ll have to lambaste you in the, best driver to not win a championship article, we know you don’t want that.
My moral dilemma is that I could see 2018 beginning and Hamlin being on a clean slate with fans that aren’t hardcore Elliott fans. At the same token, it wouldn’t surprise me if the storyline ran into 2018 that Hamlin kept Elliott from victory lane and a championship opportunity. Hamlin was in the wrong place at the worst time.