Denny Hamlin on track at Pocono Raceway. (Dennis Bicksler Photo)

Hamlin: ‘How Can You Wreck Someone You Don’t Touch?’

LONG POND, Pa. — Denny Hamlin didn’t mince words after his battle with Kyle Larson late in Sunday’s HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

After the two went door-to-door through turn one on a restart with six laps to go, the result was Hamlin and Larson drifting up the track, with Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet slapping the outside wall at the exit of the corner. 

Hamlin scampered away for a milestone 50th NASCAR Cup Series win. 

A visibly frustrated Larson felt he “got used up” by Hamlin, and believes he wasn’t raced with respect. 

The 2021 Cup Series champion noted that Hamlin has had to reach out to apologize after disagreements on-track previously, stating he’s never impeded Hamlin’s results.

Hamlin, on the other hand, sees things differently. 

“That’s not true,” Hamlin started. “He’s ran me off a bunch of road courses and called me and said sorry. I said, ‘I’m going to stand my ground next time.’”

Earlier in the 160-lap race, Hamlin got into an incident with Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, where Bowman felt Hamlin tapped the rear of the No. 48 Chevrolet, spinning him around. 

“I’m not here to defend anything. I put both those guys, the 48 (Bowman) and 5 (Larson), in an aero situation,” Hamlin said. “Didn’t touch either one. How can you wreck someone you don’t touch?

“They make a decision to either let off the gas and race side-by-side, or hit the gas and hit the wall,” Hamlin continued. “I mean, I put ’em to those decisions. I didn’t overshoot the corner. 

2023 Cup Practice And Qualifying Pocono
Kyle Larson looks on at Pocono Raceway. (Dennis Bicksler Photo)

“I was behind. I tried to get position on him, knew it was going to be tight off of two, but always made sure I left a lane or more, more than a lane.”

Hamlin and Larson were in a similar predicament while fighting for the lead at Kansas Speedway in May. 

While racing off turn two on the final lap, Larson and Hamlin tangled, resulting in the No. 5 Chevrolet in the wall. 

Larson, who led 24 laps at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track on Sunday, felt there was a glaring difference between the two battles. 

“Today, I didn’t even get to race him,” Larson said. “He ran into me before I ever hit the wall. We all know, the aero stuff that goes on when somebody gets that close to you, I mean his hood flaps were up. 

“He was touching me before we ever got to the exit (of turn one). I obviously lost the handle on my car, was out of the throttle, hit the wall, tore up my car and finished 20th.” 

Hamlin acknowledged the aero sensitivity of the Next Gen race cars, and believes he had to take a more strategic approach to capitalize. 

“It’s the same, these Next Gen cars, for whatever, you get in that spot near the car on the outside, it sends them very tight,” Hamlin said. “It just tightens their aero balance. Everyone knows it. Kyle is one of the best aero blockers in our field.

“I knew once he got the lead and it was green, there was no way I was going to go around him, so I backed off and just waited, tried not to burn up my s— for a restart later because he knows how to put you in a situation to just kill your car.

“We waited. We pounced at the right time. He didn’t get his right sides clean, drove in the corner just too far, let us get beside him. I thought we were going to race it out off of two. He got in the fence.”