Hamlin Has Unfinished Business
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on March 19, 2014 | 9:00 A.M. EST
Denny Hamlin loses control after contact with Joey Logano's car on the final lap of last year's race at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
The scars from Denny Hamlin’s crash last year at Auto Club Speedway run deepest in his spirit, not his body.
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Southern California track, so do the memories of Hamlin’s last-lap battle with Joey Logano for the win and the ensuing crash that injured Hamlin and ruined his season a year ago.
“My engineer always asks me to send him three tracks that I would most like to win and maybe they’ll spend a little bit more extra effort on that particular race track,’’ Hamlin said. “For me, California is No. 1 simply because we never made it to the finish last year.’’
Hamlin and Logano dueled side-by-side on the wide 2-mile track on the final lap last year. They touched exiting Turn 2. Hamlin nosed ahead. Logano surged. Back and forth they went as they ran into Turn 3.
“I remember going down the back straightaway watching Denny and Joey, and then Kyle coming,’’ said Carl Edwards, who finished fourth in that race. “I was racing with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and I had to tell myself, ‘Focus on your race here.’ It was so entertaining.’’
Hamlin and Logano hit again in Turn 4. Kyle Busch slipped by both to take the lead. Logano skated up the track and hit the wall. Hamlin’s car slid and came down the banking before it slammed the inside wall head-on. Hamlin went to a local hospital. He suffered an L1 compression fracture in the impact.
The injury forced him to miss four races. He started at Talladega Superspeedway and ran 23 laps before giving away to relief driver Brian Vickers.
Missing those races and the subsequent struggles Hamlin and his team had the rest of the season caused him to miss the Chase for the first time in his Cup career.
Hamlin said in the offseason that he couldn’t wait for this season to begin so he could put last year behind him. But this week provides another moment where the past will be revisited.
The incident at Auto Club Speedway happened a week after Hamlin and Logano tangled at Bristol. Logano went to Hamlin’s car after that race. Logano later called Hamlin “the worst teammate I ever had.’’
A year later, the emotions vary between the drivers. Logano says he considers his relationship with Hamlin “fine,’’ noting how they shot a Coca-Cola Family commercial in the offseason together. Logano said they “sat in a van for about three hours, so I felt like by the end of it we all got along well.
“A year is a long time. It’s over now. You’re supposed to forgive and forget and that goes both ways, so we both knew what we had to do and I feel like we’ve moved on and we’re going from there.”
Hamlin is trying, but it’s not easy.
“You can hold grudges all you want, but it’s not going to make you any faster and it’ s not going to get you any closer to a championship,’’ he said.
Then a few minutes later, his attitude on the matter changes when asked about awkward moments with Logano.
“If they speak, what do you say?’’ Hamlin said. “How can you express how upset you are with someone without punching them? I don’t know how you do that. You just don’t say anything.’’
And instead focus on the weekend.
“I’ll go there extra focused,’’ Hamlin said. “I always put in 100 percent every weekend. There’s little things that you can do as a driver, put in that extra 20-30 minutes of time debriefing and looking over tape and statistics and doing everything you can to do the best job possible.’’