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Denny Hamlin: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

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Joshua Lipowski

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Denny Hamlin once again found himself in the center of controversy on Sunday afternoon at Pocono. Hamlin pushed Kyle Larson into the wall in the closing laps en route to a win, angering both Larson and the Pocono crowd. A chorus of boos rained down on Hamlin to finish the race, and one word came to the minds of many as a result: Hypocrite.

Hamlin is one of the most outspoken drivers in NASCAR, and his actions versus his comments tend to rub people the wrong way. How did Denny Hamlin get here?

Denny Hamlin’s Comments…

Hamlin is one of NASCAR’s most outspoken drivers. He has a podcast called “Actions Detrimental”, where the description of the show literally says, “Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin will give listeners an unfiltered, honest and bold perspective from NASCAR’s most polarizing figure.” It speaks to what the brand of Denny Hamlin is.

He is a polarizing figure, and he likes to speak his mind. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the consequence of being outspoken is that people hold you to your word. Hamlin has been critical and outspoken of driver respect, or lack thereof in recent years.

He’s made multiple comments on this front, and, in fairness to Hamlin, he has been on the wrong end of multiple questionable incidents in recent years. He was almost Ross Chastain’s personal wrecking ball in 2022, and Hamlin was also almost taken out of the Championship 4 in 2021 thanks to Alex Bowman. Hamlin was also intentionally turned into the wall at Charlotte in May, which Hamlin was rightfully irate over.

The problem people have does not necessarily stem from these comments. It stems from Hamlin’s on-track actions. Which have been, frankly, hypocritical.

…Vs Denny Hamlin’s Actions

Here are three specific incidents where Denny Hamlin has not raced the drivers surrounding him with the same respect that he is asking for. Pocono was far from an isolated incident.

2017 First Data 500 at Martinsville: Hamlin Dumps Chase Elliott

The moment Denny Hamlin fell out of the good graces of many in the fanbase came in 2017 at Martinsville, Virginia, his home state. In the final laps of the race, Hamlin flat-out dumped Chase Elliott for the lead. Elliott confront Hamlin after the race, understandably so.

Hamlin was met with thunderous boos while he was interviewed on pit road. In fairness, he did write out a lengthy apology on Twitter, a tweet that has since been deleted for unknown reasons. At least with this incident, Hamlin did the right thing and owed up to his mistake.

Regardless of what actually happened that night, this is the moment that Hamlin’s perception began to change amongst fans. It had a similar impact to when Kyle Busch wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond in 2008. It turned the fanbase of the most popular driver against someone, but, this was an isolated incident…at least for a while.

2023 Advent Health 400: Hamlin vs Larson Part 1

For his first win in 2023, Hamlin and Kyle Larson found themselves battling for a trophy. On the final lap, Hamlin barely nudged Larson in the right-rear. This put Larson in the wall, giving Hamlin the win. After the race, Larson’s wife, Katelyn, put it this way on Twitter:

The reaction to this race was not as outrageous as the Chase Elliott incident or even Pocono last weekend, but it did rub some people the wrong way. Hamlin got into Larson, and Hamlin drove away with the win. That’s what happened.

Maybe that would be the end of the story, but this was not the final time that Hamlin would have a run-in with Larson. This time, it would trigger the NASCAR fanbase.

2023 400: Hamlin vs Larson Part 2

This is the incident that everyone is talking about. Denny Hamlin made contact with Kyle Larson, sending him into the wall. Hamlin went on to win, Larson responded in post-race saying Hamlin is “Always right”.

Even into the media center, Hamlin refused to take any blame for the incident. He claimed he made no contact with Kyle Larson, despite the video clearly showing otherwise. People were outraged at the finish as the Pocono Raceway crowd booed Hamlin relentlessly.

It showed why many people are not fond of Denny Hamlin. He has criticized aggressive driving in the past, but he absolved himself of any responsibility after Pocono. He did not even take to Twitter for an apology like after the Chase Elliott incident.

Hamlin Dished it Out, but Can he Take it?

The old saying in sports is “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” If you hold your competitors to certain standards and get upset when those are not met, then don’t turn around and do the very thing you speak out against. That’s what Denny Hamlin did on Sunday.

He gets upset when drivers race him hard, but when he races other drivers the same way, he gets upset. His frustration might be justified in a lot of instances, but, if he turns around and does the same thing, then he’s a hypocrite.

Hamlin has had his run-ins with guys like Ross Chastain, but at least Chastain publicly has admitted to his aggressive driving style. Chastain dishes out aggressive moves, but he fully understands and expects repercussions if things go wrong. That’s easier to stomach than a driver who complains about a lack of respect then turns around and shows little respect to his competitors.

That’s what Hamlin did on Sunday. Unfortunately, it’s a pattern as well, a pattern that he seems to embrace based on his post-race actions. He is seeming to embrace his so-called “Villain arc” or whatever my generation likes to say nowadays, but it’s not a cool “Anti-hero” type of villain.

It does not seem that things are going to change anytime soon. Hamlin is what he is.

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Joshua Lipowski

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