Denny Hamlin is adamant that the battle he had with Ryan Blaney late on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway was not a hack move but rather the byproduct of racing for a spot inside the NASCAR Cup Series final four.
Blaney took exception to how he was raced, referring to Hamlin as a ‘dickhead’ shortly afterwards, when Hamlin suffered a mechanical failure that sent him into the wall. Blaney was equally resolute when asked about the battle after the race, referring to Hamlin by the ‘hack’ moniker he issued to Alex Bowman after the fall race at Martinsville in 2021.
“He tried to slide me two or three times and failed miserably,” Blaney said. “And then just decided to use me up. if you’re going to slide somebody, slide somebody and commit. Don’t halfway do it and use me up. What did he say? Hack? I think he was that today. Yeah.”
Blaney was the leader on the penultimate restart and Hamlin drove him deep into Turn 1. That kept the two leaders side-by-side and allowed eventual winner Christopher Bell to pass them both and take the lead.
Hamlin again drove deep in the corner under Blaney in Turn 3 and that allowed William Byron to also take them three-wide and take second. Blaney ultimately finished second to Bell and felt like Hamlin cost him a chance to win the race.
For his part, speaking on his Actions Detrimental podcast on Tuesday, Hamlin says he gets it but was also racing for the same stakes as Blaney — a chance to automatically qualify into the championship race with a victory.
It was not a hack move, he says.
“No, it was not,” Hamlin said. “That’s two people racing, by the way, for the final four of a championship battle. It’s just interesting to me, given who is involved, people are like ‘why are you racing Blaney so hard?’ What are you talking about?
“I’m trying to make it into the final four. Like, I don’t quite get it.”
Hamlin said he chose the bottom because crew chief Chris Gabehart told him that three of the four restarts had been won from the bottom. His only pushback was that the outside allows a driver to control his destiny more on older tires due to the resulting wheel spin.
They chose the bottom and Hamlin says he drove deeper into the corner, but so did Blaney, and that’s why they couldn’t get away from each other.
“Needless to say, I took the inside, I didn’t get clear of Blaney and we went through 1 and 2 really tight,” Hamlin said. “He was down the race track and I was on the bottom. He’s trying to hold me down and keep me from clearing. We’re doing nothing but stalling each other out — through the corner, down the straight, all we’re doing is dragging our cars.
“I’m inching ahead and he’s inching ahead. All that’s doing is dumping air on both of our spoilers and we’re going absolutely nowhere.”
That’s how Bell got his race winning run on both of them.
“It looks like he hits nitrous,” Hamlin said. “I see the run the 20 gets, and I’m thinking I can’t block it, he’s coming in too fast so my best bet is to go into Turn 3 through the middle. My goal was to hit the middle because I have one (car) to the inside, one on the outside, so I’m going to drive in as deep as I possibly can to make the corner without crashing and that’s what I do.
“I drive in at least three lanes deeper, maybe more than what I had all day long (but) Blaney has the same mindset and he’s thinking the same thing (that) I’m on the outside so I’m going to drive in way deeper and me and him are so close to each other that we’re thinking ‘I’m not lifting until the other does, and that whoever goes the deepest is going to end up on the better end of this and then gets to battle with Bell side by side into Turn 4.’
“We both barrel it off in there and next thing you know he’s right there on the right side and I’m thinking, surely as deep as I drove in, I’m going to have all this track to work with and I don’t because he drives in deep and we’re door to door.”
That’s the part that irked Blaney, that he perceived it as a half-hearted slide job, with Hamlin saying it was just a calculation that he would be willing to drive deeper into the corner. That was not the case.
“And no people, there was no contact,” Hamlin said, referencing a battle with Kyle Larson at Pocono. “There was no contact. Blaney will admit that as well. There was no contact but we were really close to each other.
“We just drug each other down. Again, everything that happened through 1 and 2 and the backstretch was just running so close side-by-side so here comes the 24 and we’re three-wide again.
“At that point, we’re just slowing each other down. I’m up the race track in Blaney’s lane in 4 and I’m not leaving him much room. I left him a car width and a quarter but he surely expected to have more room up there. I tried, again, to hit the middle but drove in so deep that I washed up the track and he’s to the outside of me so that is making me even tighter.
“Next thing you know, we’re grinding on each other and can’t get clear of each other.”
Hamlin did think about simply conceding to Blaney, a little, just to stop hemorrhaging time to Bell and Blaney while also taking the points.
“Absolutely, on mile and a halfs, you have to have that mindset,” Hamlin said. “We can run side-by-side for laps but the leader will keep going bye-bye until one of us figures out how to get the advantage.
“What we’re trying to do is get a half car length ahead so we can say ‘okay, it’s my spot, concede, get in line and let’s go.’ That’s what I tried to do in 1 and 2 but the lap after that, I go in there, I’m going to go deep again but he’s down on my door and I’m hitting the gas to establish that it’s my position.
“But as I gas up, he gasses up. So he’s saying ‘no you’re not, I’m going to fight you for this spot,’ so I let off and leave him plenty of room and we raced side-by-side again down the backstretch.”
Hamlin ultimate suffered a mechanical failure and didn’t make it to the end of the race. He enters the penultimate race of the season, and the final race of the final three-race round, 17 points below the elimination cutline going into Martinsville.
“We don’t know yet,” Hamlin said. “There are a couple of options that we’re looking at, one being the power steering just went away. That’s one option for sure. The other could be a suspension part that broke. We don’t know which one, it was abrupt obviously.
“The times I hit the wall earlier in the race, I don’t know that it was crazy hard. It wasn’t egregious and shouldn’t have broken a suspension part. If it didn’t break a toe link, it shouldn’t have broken anything else. We didn’t observe any data that that was out of the blue so something was fractured.”
Updated playoff grid
Kyle Larson Advanced
Christopher Bell Advanced
William Byron +30
Ryan Blaney +10
Tyler Reddick -10
Denny Hamlin -17
Martin Truex Jr. -17
Chris Buescher -43
Hamlin also doesn’t view Sunday as a must-win situation.
“No,” Hamlin said. “I’m not, but guarantee I will be on kill right from the get go and treat it as a must-win. The Truex-Hamlin-Reddick is not a must-win but will they need to win, likely, so we have to treat it that way.”
Reddick has a less steeper climb.
“You have to think, who is he going up against,” Hamlin said. “It’s not going to be Byron. Byron just has to keep his car on the track all day. He’s fine. Blaney needs to run up front. If he doesn’t run up front, he open the door for everyone.
“Me, Truex, Reddick, if we’re running up front and Blaney runs sixth and sixth in the first two stages, that’s where it starts getting tight and you start thinking about the result. But we plan on qualifying on the pole, leading every lap and calling it a day.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.