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Revenge Mode: Denny Hamlin Reveals Why Contact With Ross Chastain 'Wasn't A Mistake'
NASCAR stars Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain have quite the history of run-ins, with Hamlin bearing the brunt of the incidents.
Denny Hamlin’s had a sour taste in his mouth pretty much ever since Ross Chastain made the leap into the NASCAR Cup Series Finals at his expense last fall, and with good reason he's been on the receiving end of many fracas-inducing incidents with the Watermelon Man. So, when Hamlin saw his chances of a decent finish slip away from him late in the United Rentals Work United 500 this past weekend in Phoenix, he opted to remind Chastain and all his adoring disciples across the Sunshine State that he can dish out plenty of punishment too.
Though lined up in sixth place for a final restart as the race went into overtime, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing banked high into Turn 1 on the penultimate lap, but as Hamlin struggled to steer his chariot into the turn, he decided the time had come to exact some good old-fashioned revenge.
“It wasn’t a mistake,” Hamlin revealed. “I let the wheel go, and I said, ‘He’s coming with me.’”
After the race, on an episode of Hamlin’s Actions Detrimental podcast by Dirty Mo Media, Hamlin rehashed what led to his decision to put Chastain into the wall as well as his thought process behind the strategy.
“I saw that we were the only people up top, so I said I’m gonna send him in the fence and door him,” Hamlin recounted on the podcast. “Now my dumb ass got caught up in it because I got pinned. He was between me and the wall, and then so I got all screwed up, and then I lost a bunch of positions for my team, which was stupid as [expletive].”
“But at the time, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna finish in the mid-teens anyway because my car’s just plowing here, and I’m about to get ate up by all these [other drivers on] new tires.’ I just was like, ‘If I’m gonna give this guy a hard time, this is going to be then.’”
With no shot at muscling into the top-10, Hamlin managed to eke out a 23rd-place finish, just one spot ahead of the Watermelon Man amongst the 36-car field. While Hamlin discussed genuinely wanting to end their tit-for-tat feud — one that could easily spiral into reckless territory if allowed to escalate much further — he was quick to note that the totality of their past incidents, including their pre-season collision during the Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, played a critical role in his actions in Phoenix Sunday.
“I’ve said it, and I think that Ross doesn’t like it when I speak his name in the media, and when I have this microphone, but I told him, ‘Well, I have a microphone, and I’m going to call it like I see it, and until you get a microphone, you can then say whatever you want about me,’” Hamlin explained. “But the fact is, while I’m sitting here talking, I’m going to call things the way I see it, and sometimes I’ve got to call myself out, which I’m the dumbass who lost just as many spots as he did. But at the time, I said, ‘Well, I’m going to finish [expletive] anyway, and I’m just going to make sure that he finishes [expletive] right here with me.”
Despite the intrinsic hostility that typically accompanies two warring parties as they trade paint with one another, Hamlin commended Chastain for not only his tenacity on the track, but also how the Melon Man recognized that he had it coming.
“When he knows it’s coming, [Chastain] is the hardest guy to wreck on the planet,” added Hamlin. “But I just, I wanted to get back to racing honestly with him, and I think that that’s a lot of the conversation that we had after.”
“He came up to me, and he says, ‘I guess I deserve it,’” Hamlin recalled. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I’m not gonna sit here on this podcast and ever lie to you guys and say, ‘Well, this is an accident,’ when it’s not. It wasn’t an accident. I meant to put them in the fence, but I didn’t mean to screw my team in the process. ... But at the time when you’re seeing red, that’s all that really matters.”
“I just saw an opportunity to not involve anyone else, I was about to go to the back and I wanted to take him with me,” he continued. “So, we talked, and I think that we are in a better place where I think we’re willing to put the past behind us, and I think that we’re going to judge each other from this point forward, and I think that’s the fairest way to do it.”
From Kyle Busch, to Chase Elliott, to Kyle Larson and on down the list, Hamlin’s one of many who’s been rubbed the wrong way by Chastain’s signature, aggressive style. With only days until the two rivals square off during the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway — a track whose new pit lane changes already have drivers wary of potentially risky collisions — it’s yet to be determined if the Hamlin-Chastain discord has simmered down. That said, if there still is bad blood between the two wheelmen, a gambling man would bet on it spilling over onto this Peach State track.