Larson, Hamlin added to NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers celebration

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Larson, Hamlin added to NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers celebration


Larson, Hamlin added to NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers celebration


Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin both received phone calls recently that left them anxious.

NASCAR has been rolling out its 75 Greatest Drivers list for the last few weeks. There will be 25 new names added to the existing 50 Greatest Drivers who were selected in 1998. The timing of the calls to some of the active stars has been…amusing, to say the least.

Larson was on a bike ride the week after the Bristol dirt race when he saw on his Bluetooth-enabled watch NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton had called. With 30 minutes left on the ride, the Hendrick driver was scared for it to end and have to return the call, his mind wondering about he was going to hear.

“I’m nervous because I’m like, man, Bristol just happened, am I in trouble for something?” Larson said.

He and Ryan Preece had a highly publicized run-in on the Bristol dirt. Early in the race, Preece felt Larson had squeezed him in the wall, so later in the night, Preece didn’t leave the No. 5 much room and it ended with Larson wrecked out of the race — neither driver agreed on what happened.

NASCAR didn’t take action against either driver.

“Then midway through the ride, I’m like, well, I’ve seen they’ve been announcing the top 75, so maybe I made the cut of that,” Larson said. “So, I called him back, and they gave me the great news, and I was honestly speechless because I didn’t, at the time, think I was deserving of being on that list. You think about 75 years, there had to be 75 drivers better than me to this point. So I didn’t feel like I deserved to be on it.

“But then afterward, I did pull up stats and stuff, and then I was like, yeah, I’m a champion, I’ve won 20 races at that point, which is whatever on the (all-time) list. Better than 75. So I was like, oh yeah, I guess I do deserve to be on it.

“It’s an honor for sure because there are a lot of legendary drivers before me that are on the list, current drivers who have accomplished a lot too, who are still racing. So it was pretty special.”

It wasn’t as if Larson hasn’t talked to Helton before. But those conversations usually happen like clockwork.

“He’s actually called, which is really nice, on Christmas or something,” Larson said. “He’ll call and wish you a Merry Christmas and a great offseason and all that, so that is special. And he’s texted me a few times on things like ‘congratulations.’

“But middle of the season, no holidays, me and Preece had our issues. I’m like (expletive). I mean, it’s Thursday — are you guys going to suspend me this late in the week?”

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Hamlin had a similar response when added to the list earlier this week.

“Well, I saw Jim France called, and my first thought was, oh (expletive), here we go again!” Hamlin laughed. “PTSD, for sure, on that one.”

Hamlin has been in NASCAR’s sights a few times for rules violations and more recently for being penalized for his remarks on his podcast.

“It was a good phone call, and him being very appreciative for what I do for the sport,” said Hamlin. “It was just very good to hear. Obviously he said this is a very high honor, and I acknowledged it and said I appreciate this accomplishment.

“It’s big, obviously. Hopefully, there is one more big one (the championship) that we can go.”

Hamlin has 48 career wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, including three in the Daytona 500. He’s also won races in the Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series. When Hamlin heard NASCAR was updating the greatest driver list, he did wonder if he’d be included.

“Of course you think about it, for sure,” he said. “I thought I had a place somewhere in there, but you just never know until you know.”

Larson and Hamlin are two of three active drivers who have been named to the list. Chase Elliott, the 2020 series champion, was also added this week.

Elliott tweeted, “I’m humbled to even be considered for this list, it’s a great honor that I don’t take lightly. There’s still much work left to be done …”

Announcements will continue to be made over the coming weeks. NASCAR will honor the entire group next month at Darlington Raceway.