BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin’s injured back has returned to normal, but the fracture between him and former teammate Joey Logano created a rift that might never completely heal.
Although it was a crash on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 that sidelined Hamlin for four weeks and part of a fifth, irreparably crippling his 2013 title hopes, it was an incident the previous week at Bristol Motor Speedway that ignited the flames.
Believing he was wrecked by Hamlin on Lap 349 of last year’s Food City 500, Logano approached Hamlin’s car immediately after the race, leading to a scuffle between Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew and Logano’s Team Penske teammates.
Then came the fender banging on the final lap in California which sent Hamlin’s car careening into the fence. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in the crash and was airlifted to a local hospital.
Both drivers say they’re trying to put the past in their rear view mirrors, but that’s easier said than done.
“You can hold grudges all you want, but that’s not going to make you any faster and not going to get you any closer to the championship,” said Hamlin, after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for this Sunday’s Food City 500.
“I’m bitter in ways. In other ways, it’s been so long and there have been so many trials and tribulations between then and now. … I think I’m a better person now — and I think I’m a better driver.”
Logano competed vigorously for the pole and qualified fourth for Sunday’s race. He’ll start alongside Matt Kenseth, the driver who replaced him at JGR last season.
“A year is a long time. It’s over now. I feel like we’ve moved on,” said Logano, who a year ago, tweeted a reference to Hamlin, calling him a “freaking genius behind the wheel of the 11 car” and “probably the worst teammate I ever had.”
In retrospect, Logano termed the incident with Hamlin a “fiasco.”
“We did that Coca-Cola Family commercial and all sat in a van for about three hours,” Logano said. “I felt, by the end of it, we all got along well. … You’re supposed to forgive and forget and that goes both ways, so we both knew what we had to do.”
Even so, it’s impossible for tensions not to linger. Words can hurt long after injuries heal and the physical therapy sessions are complete.
Friday at Bristol, Hamlin talked about his emotions after similar short-track experiences in the past.
“There are still those awkward moments (between drivers),” Hamlin said. “You’ve still got to go to the drivers’ meeting and be right next to them, still got to part right next to them. You don’t really say anything to them. You don’t kill them with kindness. You kill them with silence.
“If they speak (to you) what do you say? How can you express how upset you are with someone without punching them? I don’t know how you do that.”
CASSILL IN A BACKUP
A broken rear axle housing sent Landon Cassill into the wall and scurrying for a back-up car after a hard hit late in Saturday’s final practice for the Food City 500.
Saturday’s two practice sessions were otherwise free from serious incidents. Ryan Newman , Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, all in Chevrolets, topped the speed chart during the morning session with the fastest times of the day. Casey Mears (Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (Toyota) and Carl Edwards (Ford) turned the fastest laps in the early-afternoon session.