By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was far from a pretty race for Denny Hamlin, who managed to escape Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway with a less than satisfying sixth-place finish.
The three-time Daytona 500 champion had two infamous moments happened in the 200-lap race where outside of race winner Alex Bowman, he was the focal point of the event.
Earlier in the race, a three-car battle between Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick nearly went awry on the frontstretch when the trio drafted together. Harvick slightly bumped Hamlin which gave him extra momentum, pushing him into Larson’s back bumper for a few seconds until the push resulted in some contact, sending Larson into the wall.
Larson, who’s close friends with Hamlin to the point where they park next to each other, wasn’t pleased with the contact which ruined his afternoon. Even though Larson’s No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE sustained right side damage, he continued on but ended up with a 21st, one lap behind Bowman.
Meanwhile, Hamlin wasn’t done dealing with controversy as several laps later, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex, Jr. had a major expletive tirade over the radio, chewing out not just Hamlin, but Erik Jones as all three were outside the top-10 up to that point.
“Fuck (Jones) and fuck (Hamlin),” Truex over the radio. “They can both kiss my fucking ass!”
The issue between Hamlin and Truex boiled down to hard racing, but also Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry struggling with car handling that sent Truex in a bad spot where it could’ve gone bad for both teammates.
“We’re just fighting like cats and dogs,” Hamlin on the battle with Truex. “I think I was on the bottom there on the right rear and it just dumps air so much on my right rear spoiler that caused me to plow tight and kind of shove up into him. It’s just a bad combination.”
Truex’s afternoon would worsen when he vented about Joey Logano and a poor pit stop saw tire changer suffering a cramp. Those moments further derailed Truex’s race and finished an angering 14th.
As for Hamlin, he would improve over time and scored his second top-10 finish of the season. He would be the second highest finishing Toyota driver as the brand once again struggled finding pace.
Hamlin commented that his Toyota was okay handling wise, but it was still slow which was discouraging heading into Phoenix Raceway March 8, where he won the last time the NASCAR Cup Series visited Arizona.
“If we don’t have a draft, we’re just run over,” Hamlin said. “It’s tough because I feel like we’re getting beat on throttle time, but we’re also just getting murdered down the straightaways. Just need more horsepower, more downforce and less drag. If we can have all those, we’ll be better.”
Hamlin gained two spots in the championship standings with his second top-10 of the season and is now seventh in points, trailing Ryan Blaney by 28 points.
The biggest question remained after Fontana. Is all good between Hamlin and Larson?
Hamlin’s tweet suggests it’s all good between the two pals as the bumping continued at the supermarket hours after the race.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) March 2, 2020