Turn 2 Blog: Hamlin vs Larson & Did NASCAR make the right call?

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

What are your thoughts on the late race battle at Pocono between Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson?

Richard: First, hard racing is good for the sport and it’s what fans want to see. And hard racing is what was taking place late in the race at Pocono.

Hamlin put Larson in a position in which he had to decide whether he wanted to lift or run the risk of getting into the wall. Obviously, Larson chose to stay in the gas and he did eventually hit the wall. If we’re being honest, other drivers often say that Larson races the very same way as was the case earlier this season at Darlington when he was inside of Ross Chastain on a late race restart.

Where I disagree with Hamlin is when he tried to play the role of the victim after the race. He even stated that there was no contact between the two cars even though television replays clearly showed that there was. In that case, when the crowd had obviously already decided that he was the villain, just own like Dale Earnhardt used to do, and say that he was just trying to “rattle his cage” or “rubbin’s racin'” or something to that effect.

Ultimately, it was a case of hard racing, and when there’s hard racing, there are going to be victims and villains. It’s up to the drivers to decide which they want to be more often than not.

Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin were at the center of the storm at Pocono

Michael: Hamlin has a history of doing these types of things. He did almost the same thing last year to Ross Chastain. But the two of them had issues all summer long and that incident pretty much ended the on-track feud between them.

Hamlin also has a history of never accepting responsibility for any of his actions during a race. You’re right, him playing the victim after the incident with Larson was pretty bad.

Larson has been the victim of several incidents this season when he’s been racing for the win or early in a race when he clearly had one of the better cars. Larson is a low-key guy for the most part. But one has to wonder when he’s going to do something about these incidents. He’s a racer and not a fighter. But he may need to lay the fender to some people to make a statement.

Did NASCAR make the right call by not waving a caution flag when Ryan Preece spun at the end of the Pocono race?

Richard: Preece was running near the back of the pack and had he spun on the last lap rather than with more than one lap remaining I would have said that NASCAR made the right call to leave the green flag out. However, he spun with more than a lap to go and his car was stopped on the track, and for that reason, I believe they made the wrong call.

Of course, Pocono is a bit of an odd track in that a lap takes quite a while and they had time to see what was going to happen. But it looked for all the world like they simply waited for the cars to get back to the white flag then threw the yellow so that the race could be called officially completed.

The bigger problem, as I see it, is that there seems to be some inconsistency in the decisions to call for cautions. We have seen instances in which cars simply go up the track and brush the wall and a caution is called for. In particular, I can think of an instance last year in the spring race at Martinsville in which that was done. Yet in this case, there was a car completely stopped on the track.

In my opinion, there can’t be an unwritten rule for calling for a caution at one type of track and another way of doing it at another type of track. That sort of inconsistency opens any sports league up for criticism. I’m all for letting races end at the finish line rather than some other point on the track no matter how many restarts it takes.

Michael: I thought it was a poor decision on the part of race control. NASCAR’s big marketing campaign is wreck, fights, and close finishes. This would have been a possible opportunity for a close finish.

How many times have we seen one car bounce of the wall and keep going only to see a quick caution be displayed? We see that a lot. Yet when we get to the end of races and the same thing happens, their excuse is they don’t want to affect the outcome of the race. It’s the equivalent of a NBA game where a slap in the first half is a foul but a guy getting knocked to the ground is a no-call late in the game. If it’s a foul early, it’s a foul late. Same thing here with NASCAR.

What place in NASCAR history does Denny Hamlin hold?

Richard: Hamlin is in a position similar to that of Mark Martin in that he, as of now, has piled up an impressive number of wins but has never won a NASCAR Cup Series championship. I have no doubt that he will some day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame whether he wins a title or not as his 50 total wins and three Daytona 500 victories rank him among the all-time greats.

Still, even with those accomplishments, not having a championship (provided he never gets one) will be held against him when comparisons are made to those drivers of his era such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as well as those from earlier times such as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

One thing that we may not see the results of for some time to come will be his impact on the sport in ways other than driving. He is a part owner, along with basketball legend Michael Jordan, of 23XI Racing and he has also re-invented himself as a podcast host. Furthermore, he is frequently outspoken as a member of the driver community.

All in all, I consider Denny Hamlin to be a very important piece of NASCAR over the past two decades. Should he ever claim a Cup Series championship, he would rise even higher in my view.

Denny Hamlin

Michael: Despite the number of issues Hamlin seems to have on the track, he is a very good driver. He will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Should he finish his career with no championship, it will move him below some of those near him on the wins list that do have championships.

Hamlin came into the Cup Series and quickly made a statement. I don’t think he’s had what many would consider a down season. I think his aggressive mentality late in races is what has cost him a championship in this playoff era. I think he would already have a title or two under the old system pre-2003. But that’s not the system we use now.

As time goes by after he’s out of the car, people will think more highly of his career than they do now. Most fans and competitors will have forgotten or overlooked some of his incidents. I know I have when it comes to drivers back in the day that I didn’t like such as David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, or Darrell Waltrip. I respect what those guys did back then. Maybe some of us will have the same appreciation for Hamlin after he’s been out of the car for a number of years.

Please consider also reading:

People make too much of Kyle Busch winning in the lower series

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