Payback from Martinsville knocks Denny Hamlin out of title race

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

AVONDALE, Ariz. – During driver introductions before Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway, Denny Hamlin was roundly booed for something that happened nearly 2,000 miles away.

Two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin shoved the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott into the Turn 3 wall while Elliott was leading with fewer than four laps left. The fans at Phoenix hadn’t forgotten what had happened.

Payback, whether intentional or not, came on Lap 270 on Sunday. Racing for the third position, Elliott squeezed Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the outside wall off Turn 4. Smoke streamed from Hamlin’s car as a tire rubbed against the wheel well.

Five laps later, Hamlin’s tire blew, launching his car into the Turn 3 wall. The impact damaged the No. 11 Toyota beyond repair, and Hamlin exited the race in 35th place, eliminated from next Sunday’s Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Each person had their own opinion of how they do things, and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances,” Hamlin said. “So, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing.

“I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage, and that’s the way it is. We did a great job all day. This is the best car I’ve had in a very long time. We just got behind on the pit stops, and then that just gave those guys an opportunity to get close.”

Too close, as it turned out.