By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Let the head games begin.
A week removed from a run-in on track at Martinsville that led to a post-race scuffle on pit road, it’s still game on between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has moved on to Texas Motor Speedway and Sunday’s running of the AAA Texas 500.
To his credit, Hamlin owned up to his part of the on-track incident that wound up leading to the fracas that included both drivers, pit crews, and others.
“I take in account who is beside me at all times,” Hamlin said. “I was not going to give one inch. I misjudged. The on-track stuff was definitely my fault. There was no intention to run into him or run him into the wall or anything like that. Because I put myself at a pretty big risk there of cutting tires as well, but I was just trying to use all the space that I could.
“Certainly, if it was like a teammate or someone else beside me or really anyone, yeah, I probably don’t gas it up quite as soon and try to take all of that space. All that stuff plays a factor for sure.”
Though he took ownership of the on-track portion of the incident, Hamlin was quick to shift the blame for everything that came afterwards to Logano and his team, singling out Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon for not maintaining control of his pit crew.
“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 went on to note that he wouldn’t give Logano the opportunity to retaliate either this weekend at Texas or next weekend at Phoenix, adding his main focus is on making it to the Championship 4 and trying to win his first Cup Series title.
“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.”
In one parting shot, Hamlin was asked if he was worried about Logano playing mind games with him going forward and with one quick response, shut down any inkling that Logano would be able to get into his head.
“No, he’s not that smart.”
While Hamlin threw a few barbs Logano’s way, the defending Cup Series champion took a more diplomatic approach to the ongoing feud between him and Hamlin.
Expressing remorse for his actions after the race, Logano noted he shouldn’t have escalated things after the two talked on pit road and he wouldn’t let someone get under his skin like that again.
“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,” Logano said. “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.”
“For me, as a man, the first thing I do is own up to my mistakes. I probably would have walked down to him if I did the same thing and said I was sorry and that I screwed up. That is what sent me off the edge.
“Like I said, I am regretful of the way I handled it. I let someone affect my character and that is something I am not proud of. We get stronger from these moments and you live and you learn and you move on. It is part of our sport and part of the situation, part of the playoffs.”
Logano was then asked about the two playing mind games and trying to get into each other’s heads with the championship race so close and the two still needing to lock themselves in, saying Hamlin could try to play mind games, but he’s tough enough to not let them affect him.
“He can try (to play head games). He can try. I’m a little tougher than he thinks,” Logano said.
“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.”