Hamlin embracing the chaos ahead of NASCAR showdown

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Hamlin embracing the chaos ahead of NASCAR showdown

NASCAR

Hamlin embracing the chaos ahead of NASCAR showdown

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Four days on from his clash with Alex Bowman at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin is still fired up – and says he’s aiming to use that to his advantage ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR championship-decider at Phoenix.

“I have so much fuel in my tank right now from just motivation,” Hamlin said on Thursday. “There is a lot of motivation there.”

Hamlin is embracing everything thrown his way this week, and it has nothing to do with his obligations as one of the four NASCAR Cup Series championship contenders. Still on the chip from how his race at Martinsville Speedway ended because of Bowman, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver spent the last few days basking in the boos from the grandstands, laying out his emotions in a Twitter thread that included saying he doesn’t care what people think of him, and doubling down about why he’s mad.

In short, Hamlin said he thrives under chaos.

“I mean, how do I get up every morning and take my kids to school at 7:30? How do I go to 23XI and work for a couple days in the middle of the week during a playoff run?” Hamlin said. “You can probably ask Kyle [Larson], the more (expletive) that is stirred up around me, the more I come at it. I don’t mind things like that.”

It was with seven laps to go when Hamlin was spun after Bowman got into his left-rear going into Turn 3. Bowman won the race, and Hamlin, who finished 24th, advanced to the title race on a much closer margin than expected. But his anger stemmed from how he was raced, feeling as though he left Bowman plenty of room, and he still got knocked out of the way.

Bowman apologized post-race and said he understood why Hamlin was mad. However, Bowman repeatedly said it wasn’t intentional, and he even gave Hamlin the lead back a few laps before when he roughed Hamlin up.

“He didn’t give me the spot back,” said Hamlin. “That’s incorrect. I got it back. He knew what was coming and moved up the track, and instead of running into him, I just went to the inside of him and passed him.”

The champagne from Martinsville wasn’t dry before Bowman announced the creation of t-shirts that read “hack,” based on Hamlin’s comments in a post-race television interview. Hamlin’s OK with it being turned into something.

“A lot of drivers lack originality,” said Hamlin. “So, anytime I can help them with that, I’m sure they appreciate it.”

Hamlin goes into Sunday at Phoenix Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBC) with a fifth shot at his first championship under this elimination-style playoff format. It’s winner-take-all between Hamlin, teammate Martin Truex Jr., and Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

A year ago, Hamlin was fourth in the championship fight at Phoenix and felt from the start it was going to be a difficult task to win the title. This time around though, Hamlin doesn’t expect the same type of performance because he points to the 750-horsepower package being much better for the Gibbs organization than it had been.

And Hamlin’s desire is greater, too.

“I really wanted to make a pretty strong statement at Martinsville,” said Hamlin of things boiling over from last weekend. “Starting in the back, going to the back again (with a speeding penalty) and driving all the way to the front and winning that race would be the old foot on the throat heading into this weekend.

“I feel like that momentum was taken from us. But again, the momentum in my head swings back around to I’m ultra-motivated because I just love the feeling of proving people wrong.”

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