FORT WORTH, Texas — Two drivers who sit inside the top-four of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with just two races remaining until the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway are still at odds a week after they came to blows in a pit road tussle with their crews following the race at Martinsville.
Both resorted to insulting each other, instead of taking steps to move past their rivalry.
Friday, things got started at Texas Motor Speedway as Denny Hamlin was asked about the brawl the week before — where he was yanked to the ground from behind by one of Joey Logano’s crew members. Hamlin explained that what happened following last week’s race was a reflection of the lack of control that Logano’s crew chief has over his team.
“It usually starts with the drivers and ends not,” Hamlin said. “It’s part of it. It’s just who’s going to be the first crew member to intensify the situation. I thought that my guys were pretty level to be honest with you through that whole deal. I think you could see quite a few times Joey [Logano] is right in front of them and no one lays a hand on Joey. I think it’s just lack of control that Todd’s [Gordon] got with his people.”
Hamlin was ready to walk away after not seeing eye to eye with Logano at Martinsville, but when Logano touched him — it was on.
“I’m not going to let him touch me,” said Hamlin. “First, the first thing, as a man you can’t just let that stuff happen. That’s the first thing. That doesn’t affect me, and we are talking about it right now, but within 30 minutes when I’m going in there to work, it stops. That’s my full concentration. Like I said, we go into every race track to win. This weekend is no different. We don’t self-label ourselves as a favorite. I don’t think we are. We’re not locked in to Homestead. We still have a lot of work to do. By no means is this thing given.”
Then, Hamlin was asked if perhaps Logano just knows how to get to him.
“No, he’s not that smart,” Hamlin quipped.
Not long after Hamlin’s media availability, Logano took the floor. It didn’t take long for Hamlin’s words to get to Logano. Logano stood up for his crew chief who was called into question by Hamlin.
“Here are the facts,” Logano said. “I think Todd [Gordon] has great control of our race team and is a great crew chief and does a great job leading all of us. I said it after the race to TV that I probably shouldn’t have gone down there looking for an apology for something he probably wasn’t going to apologize for and I let my emotions get the best of me. That was a mistake on my part. I probably didn’t handle that correctly. It doesn’t make what he did on the race track right but I think at the same time he will probably play that card as much as he wants, he can run his mouth as much as he wants. I am going to run my race and we will see who ends up ahead.”
When asked if they are rivals, Logano didn’t sound like a man ready to bury the hatchet.
“I don’t know,” Logano said. “Time will tell.”
Logano was then asked if he felt Hamlin was trying to play mind games.
“He can try,” stated Logano. “I am a little tougher than he thinks.”
Part of Hamlin’s frustration could be that Logano has already achieved Hamlin’s ultimate goal — a Cup Series championship. Even with a title on the mantle, Logano believes Hamlin underestimates him as a driver.
“I am sure he does inside his mind,” said Logano. “Anytime something like this happens, the games are played. He is handling it a different way than I would have but we aren’t the same person and that is okay. Whatever you are into. However you want to handle things. Like I said, I am not proud of the way I handled it but I am going to be man enough to fess up to that and own that. Outside of that, I move on and whatever he wants to say, I could really give a crap.”
Logano was also asked how he will race Hamlin for the remainder of this Playoff chase. Logano stated simply, “The way I want to.”
Texas Motor Speedway, which has been known to produce brawls over the years, could be the place where this pressure between two championship hopefuls boils over. There is no love lost between Hamlin and Logano, and both are ready to do whatever it takes to show the other one that they are the man who deserves the 2019 Cup Series championship.
Pull up a seat and grab some popcorn, Sunday’s race will be quite interesting.