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A History of William Byron and Denny Hamlin's NASCAR Feud

Ignited last year at Texas, William Byron and Denny Hamlin’s feud might finally be coming to an end.  

By Andrew Woodin
Split image of William Byron and Denny Hamlin

The beauty of NASCAR’s elite Cup Series tier is that it regularly creates supercharged race day atmospheres, and the juiced-up energy among the wheelmen is no different. How could it not be? With their flock of angry, metallic beasts surging around the track less than a foot apart from one another at sometimes 200+ miles per hour, drivers do everything in their power to squeeze out every possible RPM from their Next Gen sled, hoping – nay, praying – that it will be enough to stave off the next contender’s advances. Even then, it might not be enough because, in racing, if you give an inch, you give a mile. That’s a ton of pressure to contend with and why, in a team sport predicated on the performance of one individual, fans of NASCAR’s top flight can always count on drama between circuit's tenacious drivers as it did with William Byron and Denny Hamlin last year during the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

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Now, though, it appears that feud may have reached the checkered flag.

What was the racing like during the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 in Texas?

By the end of the 2022 regular season in the NASCAR Cup Series, if there was anyone who still didn’t believe the validity of Robert DuVall’s iconic Days of Thunder line “rubbin’ is racing,” the Round of 12 race the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway should have turned deniers into believers. Why? Don’t tell Jim Mora, but it’s The Playoffs (seriously, don’t tell him, he might freak out) and, in short, there were wrecks, on wreck, on wrecks.

William Byron waves to the crowd at a race

Reminiscent of the ancient Roman Colosseum’s grounds, the carnage began early with Martin Truex Jr. slamming hard into the wall in Stage 1, followed by a crash ending Kyle Busch’s day. Though he was ultimately cleared, an incident in Stage 2 saw Cody Ware taken to the infield care center, and Chase Elliott’s valiant fight came to an end with a wreck in Turn 4. The “car-cases” continued to pile up with Kevin Harvick and Truex Jr. trading blows late in the race, leading to separate crashes for them both.

What happened between William Byron and Denny Hamlin in Texas?

Still, not to be outdone by their tenacious brethren, the show finale came with a dangerous duel in the final stage that saw Byron, not a driver with a history of track confrontations, intentionally wreck one of the sport’s most aggressive drivers in Denny Hamlin.

Denny Hamlin looks out into the crowd at a race

Earlier in the race, Hamlin nosed Byron into the outside wall, but Byron, a 25-year-old wheelman from Charlotte, North Carolina native was able to swiftly recover without sustaining any serious damage. Byron appeared to have let the incident go, but several laps later during a late-race caution, Byron, in a moment of uncharacteristic aggression, hooked the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran, sending Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota Camry careening into a dizzying spin down in the infield.

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Following the race, NASCAR slammed Byron with a $50,000 fine and docked him 25 driver points. After an appeal, Byron’s points were reinstated, but the league, in an effort to highlight fairness, increased Byron’s fine to $100,000.

Did William Byron apologize to Denny Hamlin for what happened in Texas?

Nearly a year later, Byron appeared on Hamlin’s Actions Detrimental podcast and, in an effort to bury the hatchet, a smiling Hamlin deftly coaxed an apology out of Byron for intentionally wrecking him.

“Hey, it’s not too late to say I’m sorry,” said Hamlin. “Let’s hash it out from Texas 2022 playoff race.”

In talking about how drivers can manipulate other drivers in the Next Gen car, Hamlin revealed that he essentially provoked Byron into making a “decision” because the closer he came to the No. 24, the tighter Byron would be as he crept up closer to the wall.

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“I get him into the wall,” recalled Hamlin, “And Willy B, the introverted child from his younger days, turned into Hulk and says, ‘I’m going to get this guy’ and spins me out under caution. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you retaliate.”

Under flushing cheeks, Byron admitted his mistake, telling the 23XI Racing co-owner, “I told you on the phone, when I got to under caution, I definitely meant to send a message, but when you went spinning through the infield, I was like, ‘[Expletive], that’s not good.’”

William Byron holds up his trophy after winning the Good Year 400 race

Asked by Hamlin if he thought NASCAR would penalize him for his behavior that was not only dangerous, but also empirically out of character for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver, Bryon gave an interesting answer.

“I thought so yeah, and then I thought maybe they didn’t see it, or maybe it just was an awkward circumstance where I hit him,” Byron revealed. “I did hit you off-center a little bit, and I mean it hit you hard. … I meant to you deliver a message. When you went spinning, I’m like, ‘Oh no, that’s not good. I’ll take away his chance to win.’”

Like the veteran that he is, Hamlin took a moment to show some true sportsmanship and admitted that he was also at fault for what transpired in Texas.

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“I’m the one that, I crowded him and again, it was trying to manipulate his car to have to lift, and you know it all worked out,” Hamlin stated. “We both made the next round, so it all worked good. And like you said too, we didn’t have any issues before that, and yeah it was just one of those you know product of this Next Gen car.”

What do fans think about William Byron and Denny Hamlin making amends?

Heroes and villains in the Cup Series will always generate a lot of excitement for fans, but the one thing they appreciate more than two talented drivers squaring off is having those very drivers come to the table afterward to squash their beef in a respectful manner, i.e. exactly what Hamlin and Byron did. The jovial nature of both drivers talking through their issues in lieu of barking at one another through some third-party medium had buzzing fans enamored with Byron and Hamlin’s respect for one another.

Denny Hamlin with a serious look on his face

According to Essentially Sports, fans rejoiced as Hamlin and Byron squashed their beef, posting in the podcast’s comments, “Dang I respect Hamlin for laughing about it now [laughter emoji]” and “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” in a reference to an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Other users posted, “Denny Hamlin’s podcast is far from boring for sure” and “Glad to get a current driver as a guest! Keep them coming!”

While it’s nice to see that the two drivers can turn a new leaf, there’s something about fiery tête-a-têtes that, whether or not Kyle Busch is right about a continually evolving lack of respect in NASCAR's top flight of stock car racing, just gets our blood racing to keep us thirsting for more. Now that the 2023 Cup Series season is throttling into the back nine, all efforts are gearing up for the playoffs which is when any sports season truly heats up.