NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Barry Cantrell NKP)

5 Points To Ponder: Denny Hamlin’s Dirty Move Or Chase Elliott’s Defining Moment?

ONE: Dirty Moves

Context and nuance are two words that have all but been lost in today’s society.

You’re either on one side of an argument or you’re on the diametrically opposed side and never the two shall meet.

Social media has fueled the acrimony, fanning the pungent flames of discourse almost to the point that any sort of rational conversation proves impossible. Nowadays, it’s often the person that shouts loudest and longest that wins the day. Debate, for all intents and purposes, has become a dirty word.

And so it goes in the case of Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott under the lights (the lights!) at Martinsville Speedway this past Sunday.

If you’re in the camp of next year’s Most Popular Driver, you’re absolutely appalled at the punk (insert your own multiple swear words) move by the number 11. You’d say there’s no doubt even Hamlin’s own hometown fans let him know that in the post-race coverage. He is the worst thing, and forgive me Joey Logano, since un-Sliced Bread.

But if you’re a Hamlin fan, you’re standing by him. You watched your driver fight back from yet another pit road speeding penalty at the start of stage two to push himself all the way into contention for an unlikely win. It’s one that had huge championship implications and a place in the Championship Four. So, you understand why he made that move; heck, you probably applaud your driver for it.

Twitter was predictably incandescent post-race with fans of Elliott sounding off through intense, prolonged, and vituperative rage. Hamlin’s defenders, outside of a few fans and commentators were few and far between.

Without question, the Virginia native will hear it next Sunday from the Texas Motor Speedway crowd. He’ll be booed lustily for some time to come, perhaps even the duration of his career. He’ll join Logano and Kyle Busch (who gives not one iota what people think) in a trio of pantomime villains.

Now clearly, Hamlin punted Elliott for the lead. He admitted as much on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/dennyhamlin/status/924792019309998080

It was a dirty move but it was a move nonetheless we’ve seen from some of the greatest drivers in our sport. And it’s a move we’ll see again just as the sun, God willing, will rise tomorrow. We might even see similar contact to win it all at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The sample size of races in NASCAR’s elimination format is still too small to suggest airtight conclusions yet you can all but guarantee we’ll see it again this time next year. We had Carl Edwards and Logano at Homestead last November, Matt Kenseth vs. Logano at Martinsville in 2015, the Kevin Harvick debacle at the conclusion of the 2015 Talladega race and in 2014, it was Brad Keselowski vs. Kenseth in a between-the-hauler brawl. It’s the NASCAR the powers that be drew up. It is, as Bruce Hornsby once sang, just the way it is.

Where Hamlin went wrong was not admitting his mistake right away. He should have owned it in the moment. As a 31-race winning driver, he’s too good – especially at Martinsville, where he’s earned five grandfather clocks — not to know exactly when the clock struck midnight. In the moment, with the adrenaline in full flow, he gave an interview he must have known was fallacious even as the words were escaping his lips. He should have said, “Yeah, I dumped him. I wanted to win. I wanted to stamp my ticket to Homestead.”

But for those who say his post-race statement was PR spin, I’d respectfully say you don’t know much about this driver. Hamlin has always spoken his mind, from the start of his career, opining on controversial issues with a strong point of view whether it’s the popular one or not. This veteran, after all, is a guy that was a driving force behind the Driver’s Council which has undoubtedly been a benefit to his fellow wheelmen and women.

Some in and outside the garage, including NBC’s Dustin Long say he shouldn’t even have to apologize given the format. And what might the reaction have been if Chase had dumped Brad into the wall? As it was, Keselowski recovered but how might that have looked in reverse.

“We’ll never know” is the truthful answer here. We’ll only know if that moment reoccurs. And given the way things have gone in the four years of the three-cut format, this contact will happen again, perhaps every year with different drivers.

Where does this incident leave us, then? Well, both wheelmen have uphill climbs to make the Championship Four, with Chase’s own route much more vertiginous.

But there’s hope for the sophomore in the midst of struggle; the No. 24 has been a top-five car this postseason. And after all the second places, next week wouldn’t be a bad time to finally get that first victory. It has been coming, after all, and the No. 24 has looked racy on the mile-and-a-half tracks in this Playoff.

Hamlin, meanwhile, will be booed for a while and, like Kyle Busch, I suspect it will be water off a duck’s back. He is not a driver that came from privilege, and is aware of the struggle, of what his parents and himself sacrificed for this opportunity. For much of his career, Hamlin has disproved the odds. Don’t expect that to change just because he’s badly received at driver introductions. He’s made of tougher stuff.

And as for Elliott, the son of a Hall of Fame racing legend, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. The young driver showed a level of emotion we haven’t seen thus far in his short career, expressing his very clear displeasure on the cool-down laps by knocking Hamlin’s car to the wall. Does he take a moment to exact revenge, perhaps at Phoenix? Or, can he channel that anger into racing his way back into contention this season?

Actions speak louder than words; they always have and they always will. Where Chase Elliott goes from here might just say a lot about the type of driver he’s going to become.

TWO: Next Up, Texas

Next up, we head to the lightning fast Texas Motor Speedway for the second of three races in the Round of 8. The Fort Worth-based mile-and-a-half circuit has 20-degree banking in Turns 1 and 2 with 24 degrees of banking in 3 and 4. The home of two Cup races each year, the 1.5-mile oval is the only intermediate that holds dual 500-mile events.

This will be Cup race number 34 at the track, a streak that extends back to April of 1997 with the inaugural race being won by now NBC Sports commentator Jeff Burton. Jimmie Johnson won the spring race and, not surprisingly, is the most successful driver at Texas, winning seven times.

But don’t count out the Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin, each of whom have a pair of victories. One name to look out for, too, might just be Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott. In three starts in the Lone Star State he’s finished fifth, fourth, and ninth.

THREE: Dewey Ryder

As anyone who’s read this column on a regular basis would know, I’m always keen to highlight great new NASCAR advertising. In recent years, we’ve seen a dearth of really good work or we see a once-promising spot that is played to death throughout the entire season. That makes the one quality ad essentially ruined long before we even make the Playoffs.

With that in mind, this piece for Mountain Dew is something that’s worth celebrating.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EytupLARjbI

The version on the link above is a full two-and-a-half-minute effort. Shorter spots will run in broadcast, as we saw in the Martinsville race this past weekend and also during the World Series. Over the years, Mountain Dew has created some really memorable and funny NASCAR work and this commercial is another great example.

Congrats to the team. I look forward to the encore.

FOUR: Lewis Hamilton Scores Number Four In F1

In a race that was decided by what happened in the first couple corners, and with two races left to run on the 20-race 2017 calendar, Lewis Hamilton emerged from the race in Mexico to claim his fourth Formula One title. The total equals France’s Alain Prost and Germany’s Sebastian Vettel on a list the 32-year-old Hamilton is rapidly climbing. Ahead of him now sits the legendary pair of Juan Manuel Fangio with five titles and Michael Schumacher with seven.

It remains to be seen just how many Hamilton can win but with this title, he has now taken one more than the British motor racing icon Jackie Stewart. There might just be a knighthood in his near future as Sir Lewis will have a nice and deserved ring to it.

FIVE: Ahh, Martinsville

Finally, once again the slowest, shortest, and most venerable track in NASCAR hosted another terrific race. And wasn’t it fantastic to see it all conclude under the lights although those shivering in the stands might not agree. With the preponderance of cookie-cutter tracks on the schedule, I cherish our all too infrequent visits to the short tracks and the lil’ old paperclip in particular. May it always, always stay on the schedule.

I’m already looking forward to the next visit and the inevitable fireworks.

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About Danny Peters

Avatar
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

11 comments

  1. Avatar

    Yes Danny Peters…Hamlin has always spoken his mind. The problem with him is, it often it is not the truth. So, so much for speaking his mind BS. He has done this before, we all have seen it at Martinsville and elsewhere, the reality of the moment when he gets in front of a microphone right away it always becomes HIS version of events, despite the camera (that does not lie) to the contrary. Dirty GIBBS GIRLS IN THE PLAYOFFS, nobody should be shocked.

    Hamlin has always been a dick..however I do not believe people were mad because it was CLYDE as in no famous father, it was because the folks were thinking..HEY THAT IS BILL’s kid! Just like the loons do with DALE JR. Dale Sr…ahem, I mean Jr. is retiring (thank the lord), however we will be fed this garbage with The ELLIOTS the way we were with the EARNHARDT offspring.

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      KB said it best. Everyone is tired of Earnhart and it won’t be long before everyone is tired of Bill’s little boy. I already am. Spoiled brats come in and get what they want and others struggle for years because they don’t have a “name”. Elliott acts like he is owed something.

  2. Avatar

    Danny seems to have some misplaced class envy. And a huge man crush on Hamlin, as he seems to justify his crap with CHASE. Who IS privileged, but what does that have to do with Denny’s bad choice? An excuse? What? And let us get off the notion that HAMLIN was out of his crib at the age of 1, delivering papers before dawn, then crawling down to the nearest HARDEE’s to prep for breakfast, before his Mamma picked him up, took him home for his nap, and then he went and checked bags at the local PIGGLY WIGGLY, to pay for his EXPENSIVE hobby! Come on, most of these guys no matter their background of wealth or not, had help..big time help!!!!!!!!! HAS ANYBODY SEEN ANYBODIES TAX RETURNS? Don’t think so. They all have had help, every one of them. So PFFFTTTTT.

    Who comes from what, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. From where I come from it does not matter the $$$$$$$$$ the have or have not’s! It is about character and always will be. Hamlin more often than not seems not to have it. Jesus that shit is old, just flucking old.

    • Avatar

      The school system quit teaching Character back in 1968. From then on it has been Decision making. For example: If you have them tennis shoes and I don’t, and I want them, then you must die.

  3. Avatar

    The only reason so many people are upset is because it was so blatant. If I recall even the great Dale Earnhardt was booed the year he punted Terry Labonte out of the way in similar fashion at Martinsville back in the 90’s. Fans know when someone crosses the line and no matter how popular the driver they let them know when they do. Never been a fan of whining Denny and I hope he is denied the biggest prize for the rest of his career and, like Moses, never gets to walk into the promised land.

  4. Avatar

    Part of the issue here is that the ridiculous ‘playoff’ has made a bad finish much more hurtful. When Big E dumped Terry, the championship wasn’t on the line, as it possible is here. Interesting when a driver can literally knock another out of contention…ala Kenseth and Logano. The consequences for not having the skill set (or inclination) to deliver a bump and run rather than a dump and run are considerably increased. Yet another reason why a season long title is much fairer.

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      Agree 100%.
      Acts like this have a good chance of evening out over 36 races, over 3 races,,,, not so much.

  5. Avatar

    I’m no expert but usually when you block its cause you have a slower car. Chase must have been looking at mirror at wrong time.

    • Avatar

      Ummmm, Steve, you DO realize that, at Martinsville, you do have to hit the brakes to slow down for the corners, don’t you? Chase was on the brakes at the normal braking point to make the corner while Dennis drove a lot deeper into the corner because he damn well knew what he was doing. And, therefore, we have what we saw.

  6. Avatar

    Dirty move ? Racing move ? regardless we need to see it more. At least Chase was in his weight class if it came to blows. I’ll tack Hamlin by TKO.