Denny Hamlin – was he trying to win the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship or defend the honor of his team with his outspoken rant aimed at the Richard Childress Racing team’s apparent rules violation after driver Clint Bowyer won the opening race in NASCAR’s playoff Chase at New Hampshire recently?
Hamlin, who tabbed himself the choice to end Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented run of four consecutive championships at the end of last season, uncharacteristically blasted Bowyer and Childress during pre-race media sessions at Dover this past weekend. Not typically the most vociferous driver in the field, Hamlin’s long diatribe left little to the imagination. He was blunt and specific in calling out RCR and Bowyer. He paid a price when Kevin Harvick, an RCR teammate of Bowyer, made contact with his car during the first few laps of practice causing both cars to lose valuable practice time to make repairs. It was an obvious case of payback.
Why did Hamlin lash out?
Was it part of the mind games teams play with other teams as the season winds down and the point race heats up? If so, what was the point? Bowyer effectively received the death penalty in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, a loss of 150-points which is virtually insurmountable in the nine remaining races (RCR has appealed the penalty).
Was it Hamlin’s way of defending his team from comments made by Bowyer earlier in the weekend? Bowyer angrily defended his team, claiming every team tries to push the envelope on all measurements, citing both Hamlin’s and Johnson’s cars initially failing to meet pre-race height requirements before making changes that met NASCAR specs. Bowyer’s comments were relatively benign since teams frequently have to go through pre-race inspection more than once.
Did Hamlin’s comments help or hurt his team’s chances of winning the 2010 NASCAR title? Hamlin continues to lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Dover, where he finished ninth. He holds a 35-point lead over Johnson. So while Hamlin took care of business at Dover, team president J.D. Gibbs admitted he preferred Hamlin avoid causing distractions like the one during the acrimonious weekend.
In other words, what’s the point?
Hamlin is an eminently qualified championship caliber driver. He can very well win the 2010 championship as well as others down the line. He proved his toughness winning here in Texas in April just one week after having serious knee surgery. I know because as I presented him the Samsung 500 trophy in Victory Lane, Hamlin muttered about the pain and it was evident in his eyes. But he focused on the race and tuned out the pain. It was mightily impressive.
But nothing was to gain at making the comments. The media like it. The promoters like it.
But it doesn’t win championships.
Expect Gibbs’ words to take root. Expect a quiet and focused Hamlin for the rest of the championship Chase.