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Though he’s out of title contention in the playoffs, Tyler Reddick raced his way into victory lane over the weekend during the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The 26-year-old wheelman behind Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 outlasted inclement weather to earn his third victory of the season, yet if you tuned into the nearly five-hour event, Reddick’s impressive victory was arguably a race footnote as all eyes were on Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Locked in a bitter fight to remain in the top eight, Hamlin and Byron battled each other in the middle of the pack all day long. After several laps of bumping each other excessively, the track war reached a fever pitch when Byron spun out Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota while the caution flag was clearly already out. (NASCAR Vice President Scott Miller’s admitted that league officials simply didn't see the incident.)
Noticeably livid, Hamlin’s frustration came through loud and clear over his team radio.
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“Good grief!” Hamlin exclaims after the melee. “How do they not put the 24 to the tail for that? I mean, at the least. I realize what circus we’re in, I mean, but good grief. The man wrecks you under caution, and he gets no penalty – what are we doing?”
“I’ll give him the penalty if he comes back to me,” Hamlin declared immediately after the incident.
Speaking to NBC Sports after the race, Byron recounted his side of the story.
“I mean, he ran me out of room, bent the toe link. … We’re lucky we finished,” Byron revealed. “It was really hard contact. It wasn’t like just a light contact or anything like that. I didn’t try to … spin him out over there, but I’m obviously pissed off and just not gonna get run like that.”
“We’ve always raced so well together, so I don’t know what it was all about,” Byron continued. “The 19 took [Hamlin’s] air away, and he ran out of racetrack, so [Hamlin] chose to run me out of racetrack completely. Again … it’s not like it was just light contact – I mean, I thought we were going to be done.”
When Byron was pressed further about whether his intentions leading into the contact, the driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Camaro was unapologetically frank about his role in the incident.
“I mean, obviously, yeah – I went to go show my displeasure; I didn’t mean to hit him and spin him out,” Byron issued. “I’m just not gonna get run like that. There’s really no reason – we were running second and third I think and had a shot to win. [It] killed our car for sure. That was a bummer.”
“We’ve never had issues, so I didn’t really get it,” Byron added. “It was uncalled for, and I feel like we handled it.
Not mincing his words, Hamlin took a more direct approach to answering reporters.
“I’ll just add it to the list of guys, when I get a chance, they’re going to get it,” Hamlin boldly declared after the race. “It all just works itself out. We’ll all be racing each other at some point. He’ll lose a lot of spots because he’s racing me.”
"This is hard racing, obviously,” Hamlin added. “I’m fine with hard racing but wrecking me under caution was not what we were bargaining for."
With each driver drawing hard lines in the sand, all eyes will be on Hamlin and Byron in the second stage of the Round of 12 at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2. Though Byron is well-situated for a title shot now that he’s in third place with 3,058 points, Hamlin’s close by, sitting only three spots behind him in sixth place with 3,049 points. Now that only six races remain, expect the competition to throttle into overdrive and with it, as Texas illuminated, the simmering feuds just waiting to explode.
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