HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- As far as Denny Hamlin is concerned, it was no accident. It was intentional.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is expected to miss five more weeks with a compression fracture in a lumbar vertebra suffered March 24 at Auto Club Speedway, where he and Joey Logano crashed battling for the lead on the final lap. The incident continued a run of hostility between the two drivers that included contact the week before at Bristol, and in Southern California resulted in Hamlin's car slamming head-on into an inside wall.
Hamlin doesn't blame Logano for his injury, which he believes might have been prevented had the wall been protected by the SAFER barrier. But as for what was behind the contact on the track, he has little doubt.
"How is it not intentional, is my thing. It's not like he got loose because I took air off him or anything like that. I saw him getting closer, I moved up the track. He kept getting closer, I moved up the track. He just was going to keep going until he ran into us," Hamlin said Wednesday at the JGR shop.
"Whatever happened after that, I'm sure he didn't mean for me to wreck and get hurt. But he meant to run into us, there's no doubt. He didn't get loose with the back, he drove into us with the front. That's a guy seeing I was going to get the better of him that week, and he wasn't going to let it happen, and he hit the gas until he hit something. That's my opinion of what happened, because I was there and I was in the incident."
Bad blood continues to flow between the former Gibbs teammates, who traded barbs via social media earlier in the season and shots on the race track at Bristol, where Hamlin intentionally bumped Logano in retaliation for earlier contact. Logano spun and backed into the wall at the short track, something Hamlin insists he didn't mean to cause. Logano accosted Hamlin after that race before crewmen pulled him away.
After the accident at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin said he received a text message from Logano wishing him a speedy recovery. As far as he was concerned, it didn't go far enough.
"We really didn't talk about wreck or anything of that nature," Hamlin said. "From him it was, 'Hope you get back in the car soon,' not ? 'Sorry we got together, I made a mistake.' ? It wasn't that. It was just, 'Hope you feel better.' My response is, 'Why didn't we just let things go? At Bristol you paid me back, you ruined my day. I finished 23rd, you finished 16th. Your day wasn't ruined at Bristol by me. You came back, got back to the front, and then got in an incident with someone else, and that's what ruined your day, but you're still mad and got in my face.'
"He got the better end of Bristol. He obviously got the better end of California, finishing third. I finished 25th. So you tell me were the scales are tipped? Nothing's ever fair, but I can assure you that as long as things stay the way they are, he'll have a tough time passing us from here on out."
Hamlin said it's unlikely at this point that the two will talk, and the situation will just have to play itself out on the track. Although Logano said "that's what he gets" immediately after the California crash and before he knew Hamlin was inured, the Penske Racing driver has insisted the contact was incidental.
"Did I remember who I was racing against? Yes," Logano told ESPN. "Obviously I know who I'm racing against and what happened a week before, but going into Turn 3 on the last lap, I remember, 'I'm going to win the race.' My number one goal is to go win a race. So did I intentionally wreck him? No, I did not intentionally do that. If I was going to do that, I would have hit him in the left-rear tire. I hit him in the door. It's hard racing at that point. I hate that he got hurt. I feel like the comments after the race that I made were taken way out of context. My mind wasn't straight, and I didn't know Denny was hurt. There was no way for me to know. And it got taken way out of context."
Although Hamlin did not blame Logano for his injury, he said his rival acted "very careless" by taking him out on a fast 2-mile track, "not really caring about any repercussions, taking for granted how safe our cars have been the last few years." Logano also angered Tony Stewart with what the three-time champion perceived as blocking, sparking a scuffle between the two on pit road after the race while Hamlin was being airlifted to a hospital.
"I think in my opinion he had the fastest car two weeks in a row, and instead of winning the races he got into incidents with drivers," Hamlin said of Logano. "Because he's just not patient enough. You've got to win with the cars you've got capable of winning. He hasn't driven up at the front, in the top five, very often in his career. He did two weeks in a row, and he got in incidents both times. I don't know. Maybe it's a different culture up there (at Penske) that he's not used to or what. But it's not just me. I watched California, watched him cut off numerous guys throughout that race. This has all been about Joey standing up for himself. Well, it's not that. It's the drivers that he's cutting off standing up for themselves. You've got to either change your driving style, or continue to get into incidents week after week."
NASCAR did not penalize Logano for the incident at Auto Club Speedway, determining the contact that caused the crash to be a racing incident. Hamlin doesn't disagree -- but said Logano will ultimately be judged by his peers on the race track.
"My 100 percent opinion is, he shouldn't be penalized," Hamlin said. "This is a self-policing sport, so from this point on he has to deal with all the repercussions of the way he's raced guys over these last few weeks. That all comes back around. It always does. I remember my rookie season, this veteran driver was just irking my nerves at Martinsville. He eventually ran into the side of me and cut my tire down. I remember badmouthing him after the race. His name was Mark Martin."
The same Martin who will substitute for Hamlin in the No. 11 car this weekend at Martinsville.
"At that point I was like, maybe I should just change the way I drive, because he knows a bit more than I do," Hamlin added. "These guys can make your life hell if they want to. So trust me, the repercussions come from within the garage and on the race track. It doesn't need to come from NASCAR. ? When drivers take it upon themselves to take someone out, they know from that point on, they've got a huge bull's-eye. He probably needs to switch sponsors with Juan Pablo (Montoya) for at least two months."
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