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Kyle Larson ‘pissed’ at Denny Hamlin over Pocono incident
After finishing 20th at Pocono, Kyle Larson now sits seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. (Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

Kyle Larson ‘pissed’ at Denny Hamlin over Pocono incident

LONG POND, Pa. (BVM) – Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono saw Denny Hamlin achieve an impressive milestone, winning his 50th career Cup Series race, seven of which have come at Pocono Raceway.

However, that was far from the main storyline coming out of the race.

Hamlin, who led just nine laps at the HighPoint.com 400, was booed by fans at “The Tricky Triangle” after the win for what occurred just a few laps before the race ended. On Lap 154, Hamlin drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Kyle Larson up towards the outside wall as the two drivers battled for the lead, a controversial move that led Larson to make contact with the barrier and eventually fall to a 20th-place finish.

As the yellow flag came out for a caution, Larson retaliated by bumping Hamlin’s car, showing his displeasure for the move made by the No. 11 car.

For Hamlin, this is not the first time a late-race move has come under fire. One of the most recent examples came at the same race at Pocono last year, as Hamlin was disqualified after bumping Ross Chastain into the wall.

While Hamlin’s feud with Chastain has only continued, he and Larson are regarded as friends off the track. However, that relationship has been made more complex, and Larson made his feelings known about that after yesterday’s race.

“It is what it is,” Larson said. “Yeah, we’re friends. Yes, this makes things awkward. Whatever, he’s always right. All the buddies know, Denny is always right. I’m sure he was in the right there as well. But it is what it is. I’m not gonna let it tarnish a friendship on track, but I am pissed.

“He pulled the same move on Ross last year, which Ross probably deserved it with all the stuff that he’s done to Denny in his career. I haven’t done that to Denny. So I don’t think I deserved to be run into before I ever got to the wall.”

During the same post-race interview, Larson also noted that he may have to begin driving differently around Hamlin if this continues.

“I think at this point I have to,” Larson said. “I’ve never had to apologize to him about anything, anything I’ve done on the race track. I can count four or five times where he’s had to reach out to me and he’ll be like, ‘Aw man, sorry I put you in a bad spot there,’ or whatever.”

Just a few laps before the incident with the No. 5 car, Hamlin also made a similar move on Larson’s Hendrick teammate, Alex Bowman, which led him to spin out, resulting in an eventual 24th-place finish for the No. 48.

After the race, Hamlin was showered with boos at Pocono, but explained that he wasn’t at fault for either of the cautions with Bowman and Larson.

“Both guys wrecked themselves,” Hamlin said. “There was a lane. He missed the corner first, and evidently, he didn’t have his right-side tires clean, and when he gassed up, he just kept going again. You have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence, or lift and race it out. Those were choices they made. I didn’t hit either one of them, didn’t touch them.”

Hamlin also had a chance to further explain his move, as well as his respect for Larson, during a press conference after the race.

“We’re racing for the win,” Hamlin said. “If I’m gonna give anyone in the field respect, it’s Kyle Larson, just because I respect him as a race car driver and I think he’s probably the best. Certainly he’s got my respect, but we’re all racing for a win. I guarantee you, roles reverse, it goes the same way.”

The incidents between Hamlin, Bowman and Larson were not the only heated exchanges of the day in Pennsylvania. On Lap 106, Austin Dillon got in a wreck as he was going toe to toe with Tyler Reddick. After he got out of his car, Dillon threw his helmet at Reddick’s No. 45 car.

At the end of the race, Ryan Preece voiced extreme displeasure with the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet, Corey LaJoie, before being held back after Preece was spun around and stalled on the final lap, leading to a 31st-place finish.

However, it’s Hamlin and Larson that continue to have many around the sport talking. On NBC’s post-race coverage, former driver Kyle Petty weighed in on Hamlin’s move, and was not thrilled about what the No. 11 did.

“He’s already pulled this move,” Petty said. “Denny can’t be the victim. We played his radio, he was the victim, he put himself in the victim’s position. You’re not the victim here Denny Hamlin.

“It was a great race. I enjoyed every lap. I loved the strategy, I loved everything about it. The ending, I don’t appreciate. Even 50 wins, what he’s done, I don’t appreciate that because we saw this same move last year.”

After the race, Hamlin’s own teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr., had some additional comments about Hamlin’s move on Larson, even calling it “dirty.”

“I did exactly what Denny did other than pushing the No. 5 car too deep in the corner and then running him in the fence off of two,” Truex Jr. said. “He kind of took it that extra little bit I guess to make it a little bit dirty. I didn’t. Maybe that’s the difference why he won and I didn’t.”

No matter what anyone thinks, Hamlin doesn’t seem phased. He has proved that throughout his NASCAR career, and did so again during his post-race interview, embracing the boos from the fans at Pocono.

“I love it,” Hamlin said. “They can boo my rock out here in a few years.”

The win for Hamlin at Pocono is his second of the year, as he currently sits third in the Cup Series standings, 55 points back of the top spot held by Truex Jr. Meanwhile, Larson is 55 points back of Hamlin in seventh place after his top-20 showing.

Things will only continue to heat up from here, as just five races remain in NASCAR’s regular season, with the Cup Series heading to Richmond for the Cook Out 400 this weekend. Perhaps that race will see some of the same fireworks that led to a wild day at Pocono, particularly for Hamlin and Larson.

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