Denny Hamlin didn’t look like a driver who advanced into the Championship 4 at Martinsville Speedway with how heated he was afterward.
In his NBC Sports television interview, Hamlin called race winner Alex Bowman a “hack” and “terrible” after Bowman spun him for the race lead in Turn 3 with seven laps to go. A pit stop for scuff tires and the overtime restart later, Hamlin finished 24th. He advanced by eight points.
After the checkered flag, Hamlin stopped his Toyota Camry angled in front of Bowman’s Chevrolet on the frontstretch before Bowman could start celebrating. When Bowman looped around Hamlin to face Turn 3, Hamlin went nose-to-nose with Bowman, flipped him off with both middle fingers, and pushed into his car into Bowman’s before backing up and driving away.
“I think he sent us (wide in Turn 3) on the first lap after the restart (with 23 laps to go), just pushed us all the way until we got into the (expletive) in 3 and 4,” Hamlin said of expecting the contact where he was spun. “That didn’t work; I got back position on him. Then he just kept running into us, and I finally just moved up and said, ‘All right, fine. If you’re better, just go past.’ I think he saw it wasn’t going to be easy, so he just took the easiest route possible.”
Hamlin will appear in the title race for the third consecutive season. Of the eight winner-take-all championship events under this playoff format, Hamlin has qualified for four of them. He entered the day 32 points above the cutline, and as he ran before the contact with Bowman, didn’t need to win the race to advance.
“You find ways to settle it,” responded Hamlin on racing Bowman going forward.
Heavily booed during his television interview, which played over the track public address system, didn’t surprise Hamlin. Even if Martinsville is one of his home races.
“It’s just Chase Elliott fans; they don’t think straightly,” said Hamlin.
“They’re going to boo the (expletive) out of me next week,” Hamlin replied when asked if it bothered him. “I can tell you that.”
It was a long day for Hamlin and the No. 11 team. Instead of starting third, Hamlin dropped to the rear because his car failed pre-race inspection twice. Before the lap 60 competition caution, Hamlin was within a straightway of being lapped by leader Kyle Larson and then was called for speeding on the ensuing pit stops.
THE FRUSTRATIONS ARE OVERFLOWING pic.twitter.com/aAnHAhj37o
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 31, 2021
On lap 72 came a close call missing Ryan Newman, who spun on the frontstretch.
“It was closer than I certainly wanted to be, for sure,” said Hamlin. “That’s the tough part when you get back there, you’re not worried about yourself causing an incident or whatever. It’s back there those guys are fighting and bouncing off of each other.
“I mean, on lap 10 they were door slamming. It’s just a different type of racing back there, so you really try to tread as lightly as you can and I think one of them hooked the other one. That was the biggest concern I had was just getting caught up or getting the grille knocked in early in the race.”
Hamlin ended the first stage in 14th and cracked the top 10 on lap 156. Fifth in the second stage, Hamlin began to move into race-winning contention from there.
Hamlin took the lead for the first time on lap 389 and looked primed for a sixth win. The team kept him in the lead through the final round of pit stops, and he cleared the second-place driver on the three restarts before the one where Bowman shoved him into Turn 3.
“We’ve just been really strong on these short tracks,” said Hamlin. “No matter how far we’re down in horsepower or how much better the Hendrick (Motorsports) cars are in general, we’re fighting and clawing, and we’re still finding ourselves with a shot to win each week. I knew our 750 (horsepower) program, in general, has been a lot better than the 550 this year. Some of the advantages the Chevy’s have are not as big; it doesn’t show up as much on tracks like this, so you’re able to finesse your way around the track.
“It wasn’t ideal starting in the back. I knew pretty early after an adjustment or two it was a good enough car to go up there and contend.”