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In NASCAR, just as there are iconic drivers, there are iconic rivalries! And who knows better about rivalries than Dale Earnhardt Jr—after all, he saw it up close between Geoff Bodine and his dad. Now, turning his attention to Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin, he believes this rivalry is a rekindling of what started back in Pocono last year. And what unfolded in New Hampshire and Nashville was only a new chapter…

The race at Nashville Superspeedway was full of surprises. However, one moment stood out more than the rest. The Hamlin-Larson battle was enough to catch everyone’s attention, but NASCAR’s villain’s unexpected restraint has taken the drama to the next level. And if you were also left scratching your head, then worry not. Dale Earnhardt Jr might have just the answers for you.

Why did Chris Gabehart stop Denny Hamlin from retaliating?

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Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson are the top contenders in NASCAR right now. And battling it out at the front of the field almost always leads to clashes, an aspect that has recently become common in their rivalry. It all started in New Hampshire when they were fighting it out for the second spot, and Hamlin got into heavy contact with Larson. While the #5 driver didn’t retaliate, his spotter didn’t appreciate it: “He runs you like that every time. You know why? Because you let it happen.

Kyle Larson’s response? “Shut the f*ck up.” Although he may have held his cool in New Hampshire, that wasn’t the case in Nashville, where it seemed like Larson was out for some good old revenge. And when he did find the opening to a possible attack, he ran Hamlin’s car up the track! The crowd braced for Hamlin’s retaliation, but it never came. Instead, just when Hamlin tried something, everyone heard his crew chief Chris Gabehart say, “We’re gonna win the race. Worry about the grab a**ing later.” The JGR driver may not have won, but Dale Jr has a possible explanation for why he didn’t retaliate.

On the July 3 episode of Dale Jr Download, Junior drew parallels to the Iowa race, which involved an incident between Josh Berry and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “They were getting ready to have a restart late in the race. Josh Berry ran into the back of Ricky Stenhouse [Jr]. I didn’t think it was a big deal.” However, given the fragile nature of these high-speed machines, Berry’s car was damaged enough for him to lose a significant amount of speed and balance. They’re a little more delicate than maybe we realize.”

Dale Jr continued, “If you go up there and you bump into a guy, just slightly unsealing the hood and those louvers in the hood – any of that getting disrupted, just even the slightest changes the air intake to the engine and all sorts of things. So that’s something that I think drivers are not quite as aware of but will be more and more sensitive to as we move forward. And I think that’s why Gabehart [asked Hamlin to stop attacking].”

Well, given that Hamlin is not one to just let an attack pass, Junior’s response perfectly connects the puzzle pieces. And as far as rivalry goes, Dale Earnhardt Jr does think that it’s on. Therefore, Hamlin’s held-back approach does not mean that Larson won’t have anything to look out for in the upcoming races. In fact, Junior even made a rather surprising statement!

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Drivers don’t really get to decide if a rivalry is far from over

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The fight between Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson is a topic of debate, with some buying into it and others dismissing it as mere competitive racing. Insiders like Freddie Kraft have downplayed any hint of it between the two. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr “wouldn’t think nothing of that.” And why should he? It’s not that the racing community is unaware of how Larson was left on the fence at Pocono. If anything, he probably saw it coming.

Furthermore, Junior brought into the debate a fresh and surprising opinion. He said, “The drivers in rivalries aren’t the ones to ask about it being a rivalry. It’s our choice. It’s the public’s choice, whether it is a rivalry or not.” Another point that Dale Jr made supported his stance. He duly shed light on the drivers’ statements. And it’s true because until last week, Hamlin and Larson denied any rumors, but this time, they didn’t flat-out deny them.

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Hamlin said in his podcast, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m fine with the way we’re racing. And it’s going to keep going, and it’s going to keep getting raised. Sure, if you want to call it [a rivalry].” As for Larson, in the post-race interview in Nashville, he painted a rather grim picture. He said, “I wouldn’t agree or disagree [about having an ongoing rivalry]. It comes and goes. I feel like we race well together at times, and then there’re times when I feel like he races me, not the fairest. I’m sure he feels the same way. Hopefully, we can move on from it soon and get a little bit of respect from him.”

Dale Jr perhaps meant that Hamlin and Larson are too close to the situation to objectively define a rivalry. Therefore, with their statements becoming rather ambiguous and open-ended, everything hints at a complex equation. The changing statements from Hamlin and Larson add fuel to the fire, making it a topic of discussion and debate among fans and ultimately allowing them to decide whether it’s a genuine rivalry. So what do you think—is the rivalry on? Let us know!