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“I Am Who I Am”: Denny Hamlin Rubbishes Rumors of ‘Budding Rivalry’ With NASCAR

Published 05/15/2024, 10:06 AM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

As the unofficial smack talker of NASCAR, Denny Hamlin has nurtured a reputation for being outspoken without bounds. From calling for a change to the one-race-win championship format to accusing the executive leadership of negligence, Hamlin always spoke with candor. However, he mostly offers some excellent ideas on his podcast, ‘Actions Detrimental’.

Recently, NASCAR announced an in-season tournament for five Cup races. Fans were quick to call out the higher-ups for ignoring credit to Hamlin, as it was his idea, proposed a year ago. This signaled a further fueling of the Hamlin-NASCAR rivalry. However, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver recently claimed otherwise.

Denny Hamlin is all about letting go 

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Hamlin’s on-track rivalries have raked up a lot of interest over the past few years. Most prominently, his face-off with Kyle Larson in Pocono last year sparked off a tradition of booing the No. 11 driver. Denny Hamlin’s equation with Larson came to a head recently. The latter claimed he would not like to finish second to his rival, as he had already done so six times. However, Denny Hamlin brushed off hard feelings as he called it a “friendly rivalry”.

Similarly, as the Hamlin-NASCAR spat also seems to darken as per many, the JGR driver is here with an alternate view. On a recent episode of ‘NASCAR Live’ with Greg Stucker, Hamlin said he has a “great relationship” with the organization. He further expanded: “People think that there’s a budding rivalry between me and NASCAR. I think you’ll be very surprised how much me and executives in NASCAR talk, week in and week out about things that we can do, and how much we work together to grow the sport.” 

via Getty

Denny Hamlin is also very self-aware about his smack-talking status. He further explained that while he does nurture a brash side, he majorly offers advice good for motorsport. The higher-ups acknowledge the invaluable expertise that the 54-time Cup winner brings to the table.

Hamlin explained: “I always told the message, you know. I am who I am, and for 80% of the time, I’m gonna say a lot of things that are gonna help our sport, help them grow. But there’s gonna be that 20% when you’re just gonna wanna shut your ears and not hear it. They all agreed though, that that 80% was worth it.”

Having said that, this is not the first time that Denny Hamlin has hiked suspicions of a growing spat with the executives. 

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Hamlin boldly protested the leadership in 2022

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When the Next Gen car was rolled out in 2022, a horde of problems spilled out as well. The driver safety issues were most significant, and Denny Hamlin himself had first-hand experience. He withdrew from a Darlington Xfinity race due to soreness. Besides him, former 23XI driver Kurt Busch suffered a head injury in a crash that crippled his future runs. 

Hence Denny Hamlin stepped up with a bold reason for why the situation, blatantly uttering, “Bad leadership”. When the media asked him what the solution could be, he had promptly answered“,New leadership…I don’t know, just start at the top and work your way down.”

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However, even amidst almost declaring war on the leaders, Hamlin clarified that he has no beef with NASCAR president Steve Phelps. “I don’t have any details on it, but I am great friends with Steve Phelps,” Hamlin had clarified at the time. 

Hamlin toned down his aggressive stance. But his concerns were taken into consideration, and the Next Gen car improved in terms of safety. Evidently, the higher-ups accept Denny Hamlin’s invaluable insights in the sport.

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Written by:

Sumedha Mukherjee

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Sumedha Mukherjee is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports who is known for her in-depth track analysis as well as her lifestyle coverage of Cup drivers like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Inspired by the Kiwi's journey so far, Sumedha has also written extensively on Shane Van Gisbergen, predicting how the Supercars Champion would do in the new and unfamiliar American setting. Pairing her research skills with her vast experience as a writer, Sumedha creates stories her readers can easily get lost in.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath