Denny Hamlin Unapologetic After Contact With Larson on Path to Pocono Win
Denny Hamlin raised the ire of his friend Kyle Larson, but at the end of Sunday's HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway, Hamlin was celebrating in victory lane for the 50th time in his NASCAR Cup Series career.
While being showered with boos from the sold-out capacity crowd at Pocono Raceway following a controversial finish to Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series HighPoint.com 400, Denny Hamlin was unapologetic as he collected the 50th victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
Hamlin even jabbed at the fans in attendance that were upset by him winning the race.
"I love it," Hamlin said of the boos. "They can boo my rock out here in a few years."
The rock Hamlin is referring to is a special feature that Pocono Raceway has outside the garage area, where they honor legendary drivers that have raced at the 2.5-mile triangular oval over the years.
With his win on Sunday, Hamlin now has seven wins at Pocono -- more than any driver in history.
As far as the controversy, Hamlin gained the lead with an aggressive move on Kyle Larson in Turn 1 on Lap 154 of the 160-lap event. Hamlin, in a similar move that he made on Ross Chastain a season ago at Pocono, ran Larson out of room.
This put Larson in a position to make a decision. Either roll out of the throttle and stay out of the fence. Or stay in the throttle, and hope for the best. Larson chose to stay in the throttle, and he caught the fence.
Hamlin says the incident with Larson, and a separate incident with Alex Bowman on Lap 150, were not his fault.
"Both guys wrecked themselves," Hamlin pointed, which incensed the crowd even further. "There was a lane. [Larson] missed the corner, first. And evidently, he didn't have his right side tires cleaned and when he gassed up, he just kept going again. You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence, or lift and race it out. Those are choices they made. Didn't hit either one of them, didn't touch them."
While Hamlin states he didn't make contact with either driver, the replay from USA Network shows that he did indeed make contact with Larson for the lead in Turn 1.
While Hamlin felt he was not at fault in the incident with Larson, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet ZL1 saw the incident differently.
"Whatever. He's always right," Larson stated with dejection. "All the buddies know Denny is always right. I'm sure he was in the right there as well. It is what it is. I'm not going to let it tarnish a friendship on the track, but I am pissed. And I feel like I should be pissed."
Larson is upset, but now the becomes will he race Hamlin differently going forward?
"I think at this point I have to, right," Larson said. "Like I said, I've never had to apologize to him about anything -- anything I've done on the racetrack. I can count four or five times, where he's had to reach out to me and say, 'Ah man, I'm sorry, I put you in a bad spot,' or whatever. So, eventually, like he says, you have to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back."
Part of what upset Larson so much was that the move wasn't an accidental one-off in his mind, as it's the same move Hamlin put on his bitter rival Ross Chastain a season ago.
"He pulled the same move on Ross last year, which Ross probably deserved it, right? With all of the stuff he's done to Denny in his career," Larson explained. "Again, I haven't done that to Denny, so I don't think I deserve to get run into before I even got to the wall. Just it is what it is."
While Hamlin drove to victory lane, Larson faded in the closing laps to a disappointing 20th-place finish.
Tyler Reddick was credited with a runner-up finish to Hamlin after the field was frozen on a caution that was called for Ryan Preece, who had crashed in Turn 2 with two laps to go.
Martin Truex Jr., who maintains his regular season point lead post-Pocono, came home in third on Sunday afternoon.
Kevin Harvick, and NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year contender Ty Gibbs finished the race in fourth and fifth.
Christopher Bell rebounded from a spin on Lap 93 to finish the race in sixth.
Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought home a seventh-place finish for the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team, and he was followed by Harrison Burton, Erik Jones, and Chase Elliott, who rounded out the top-10 finishers in the race.
Photo Credit: Gavin Baker, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing