Toward the end of this past Sunday’s First Data 500 from Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin got into the rear of Chase Elliott, sending the No. 24 spinning into the outside wall, ending his shot at a win. This caused a confrontation between the two drivers after the race and much reaction from the NASCAR world.
Was Hamlin’s move on Elliott a dirty one?
Denny Hamlin has been in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for a while, going back to 2005. He has amassed his fair share of wins, 31, and gained a ton of respect from a lot of people in NASCAR. But he lost some of that respect on Sunday.
Because what he did to Chase Elliott was dirty. Agree with the move or not, it was, in fact, dirty.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Frankly, I completely understand why Hamlin made the move. It’s a product of this playoff format: win and advance. That move, in his eyes, was the difference between him getting the chance to race for a championship in Miami or not.
Nobody but Hamlin himself knew what was going through his head with three laps to go in the First Data 500. Did he really just want to nudge him out of the way and did he really have no intention of wrecking him?
Come on now, people. Hamlin wrecked Elliott. There ain’t no two ways about it.
The definition of a “dirty move” in stock car racing differs from driver to driver, fan to fan, and official to official. But I think it was dirty because the end result was a wrecked race car.
I think fan reaction was pretty telling. I know Elliott is one of, if not, the most popular drivers in the sport, but Martinsville is also Hamlin’s home track. He’s been cheered with ear-piercing screams before. But not this time.
He was booed relentlessly, while Elliott was cheered for egging on the crowd, waving his hands to make them louder.
There’s a difference between bumping someone out of the way for a win and wrecking someone for a win. It’s clear as day that this was a wreck for the win, that he didn’t even win, by the way.
What Elliott did to Brad Keselowski a few laps prior was a bump and run for the lead. What we see more often that not at short tracks, and sometimes road courses, are bump and runs. We just seem to remember the ones that cause a bit of controversy more than the others.
Austin Cindric on Kaz Grala at Mosport? Dirty. Ironic enough, Elliott on Ty Dillon at Mosport a few years ago? Dirty. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski? Both have bee dirty towards each other in the past. Hamlin on Elliott at The Paperclip? D.I.R.T.Y. See it, spell it, read it. And those are just the ones that are in recent memory.
I don’t want to hear the “Oh, but Davey, Dale Earnhardt wrecked people for the win all the time and we used to celebrate him then and we still do now! Why aren’t we doing the same with Denny Hamlin?”
It’s rather simple: Denny Hamlin is not Dale Earnhardt, nor will he ever be. Even someone who never saw The Intimidator race and was not old enough to understand how the dude was racing immortality knows that.
I also don’t want to hear the “Well how about what Matt Kenseth did to Joey Logano a few years back at Martinsville? Was that dirty?”
Yes, it sure as heck was. It was also something us as race fans love: payback.
Kenseth had every right, and then some, to wreck Logano. The No. 22 turned the No. 20 a couple weeks prior at Kanas while Kenseth was leading. He took a win away from him there, and Logano’s potential win was taken from him at Martinsville.
Did Kenseth deserve to be suspended? That’s up for debate. But his move was warranted, albeit dirty. Hamlin’s move wasn’t payback. He can tell himself that it was warranted because he wanted an automatic advancement to Miami all he wants, but I ain’t buying it. – Davey Segal
Quit Hating Hamlin
It is the unpopular opinion, but I refuse to label Denny Hamlin as a dirty driver after he knocked Chase Elliott out of the way at the end of Martinsville. Simply stated, what he did to Elliott was not dirty.
Hamlin has been in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full time since 2006. As someone from the Richmond, Va. Area, I somewhat got to watch him come up through the ranks and have been to his charity races he used to have in the area (and hopefully will start having again soon).
While there is no way that Hamlin has driven in 10,000 races, as he said on Twitter, he has raced a couple thousand and I have never seen him intentionally wreck anyone. He races hard, as all good drivers do, and that is exactly what he was doing when he hit Elliott.
It is hard to believe that Hamlin meant to wreck Elliott. He absolutely meant to bump Elliott; if you are in second place and don’t try to bump the leader out of the way at the end of Martinsville, then you don’t belong in NASCAR. What likely happened is that Hamlin tried to move Elliott up the track and just drove the car in a little deeper than he intended.
No one truly knows what happened in that situation other than Hamlin.
If Hamlin was trying to spin Elliott, then that should not be considered dirty either.
Everyone seems to be forgetting that one lap earlier, Elliott used up Brad Keselowski to take the lead. If Keselowski was not an extremely talented driver, then he could have wrecked right there too.
Elliott’s move made Keselowski mad enough that when I asked Keselowski after the race if he planned on talking to Elliott, he said, “I don’t need any bulls–t.”
Drivers race the way they want others to race them. If I am Hamlin watching this play out, then as soon as I see Elliott use up Keselowski, it tells me that I can race Elliott just as aggressively as he is racing others.
Here’s the ultimate question: would people have reacted with the same outrage had Keselowski wrecked as a result of Elliott’s move?
The answer to that is no. People are only furious at Hamlin because Elliott is roundly popular and most want to see him pick up his overdue first win.
Elliott was robbed of that win by Hamlin and he had every right to be mad. But isn’t that why we watch racing—to have a winner and a loser?
We want these drivers to give 110 percent to try to win these races, yet we get furious when they actually do that. If you truly want to win a race more than anything else then you will do anything it takes to win, including spinning out your competitors.
Elliott has every right to return the favor to Hamlin if they are racing for a win in the future. In fact, I will be disappointed if Elliott does not dump Hamlin for a win.
The key is the driver must be going for a win for it to not be dirty.
If you are wrecking people while not going for the win, then that is dirty driving.
When Jeff Gordon returned to the track to wreck Clint Bowyer at Phoenix International Raceway in 2012 and cost Bowyer the championship; that was dirty driving. When Matt Kenseth wrecked Joey Logano at Martinsville in 2015, it was dirty driving.
If those two avoided being labeled a dirty driver, then Hamlin definitely should.
The bottom line is that moves like Hamlin made used to happen all of the time back in the day. People look back with fondness for Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough for driving like that. In recent years, the cars have become too aerodynamically dependent for that style of racing so we are not used to seeing it on a regular basis.
This is stock car racing. It should be defined by beating and banging. The day that ends will be the day I consider NASCAR to be just as boring as Formula One. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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