Turn 2 Blog: Denny Hamlin embracing the villain role is a good thing

*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.

It’s good that Denny Hamlin is embracing the role of villain, isn’t it?

Richard: Racing, or any sport for that matter, needs a good villain. Fans not only need an individual or team to root for but also one to root against. However, it’s not easy to play the role of the ‘bad guy’ because not many people want to get booed when their name is called out. But for those few who can handle it, a useful purpose can be served.

Fans need to have that one individual or that one team that allows them to say, “My favorite didn’t win today but at least he(they) didn’t win either.”

Denny Hamlin

We have really seen a bit of a transitioning into villainhood over the years by Denny Hamlin. Between his well documented run-ins with Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson, a number of fans have begun to take exception with the veteran driver.

His actions at Bristol only helped to reinforce his status as enemy No. 1 for many fans when, during the time when drivers were supposed to introduce themselves, he simply stated, “You know” and walked away from the microphone. And at the end of the race when the crowd booed lustily during his post-race interview, he remarked that he beat their favorite driver. When asked which one, he replied “All of them”.

During this week’s edition of his ‘Actions Detrimental’ podcast he stated that he hopes to make the lives of his detractors miserable over the remaining weeks of the NASCAR Playoffs.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Darrell Waltrip were two drivers from the past who played into the crowd reaction whenever it went against them with great effect. Rather than running away from it, Denny Hamlin appears to be enjoying his role as the ‘bad guy’.

Michael: I don’t think early in his career Hamlin would have embraced this role. But now, that’s a different story.

NASCAR needs its villains. Things are more fun when the fans, and other drivers, have somebody to root against in a very vocal way. There was a time when it didn’t seem like there were any villains. There were some disliked drivers, but not villains. Things were a bit stale and uneventful during that time.

Texas really needs to produce a good race, doesn’t it?

Richard: Over the past few years, Texas Motor Speedway has seemed like a race track that didn’t know what it wanted to be. They seem to be all over the map in terms of doing things such as using the sticky spray on the track surface, hosting the All-Star Race, and running IndyCar events.

It’s no secret that the competition has not been very good for a while now. Cars often times funnel down to one lane and log high speed laps in whichever groove is the stickiest.

I don’t know that TMS is in danger of losing its place on the schedule but it needs to become something other than a place fans and competitors dread to see coming up on the schedule.

Michael: Texas is a screwed up mess. When they took the banking out of one end of the track, it took it from an okay track to one that’s pretty boring. I know they wanted to differentiate it from Charlotte or Atlanta. But the results have not been good.

I’ve been expecting them to make the track like Atlanta, another pack racing track. I’d rather Texas be that type of track instead of Atlanta. But I have a feeling we’ll have both soon. But as much money as they’ve thrown at it, maybe they stand pat for a while.

Isn’t it crazy that the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t even survive the first round?

Richard: I guess the answer to this is both yes and no. One would think that if a team such as Joey Logano and his Team Penske crew was good enough to win a title one year they would surely be good enough to at least get through the first round of the NASCAR Playoffs the next. At the same time, though, the No. 22 has struggled with being consistently good throughout the season. And lately, they have had to rely on pit strategy for good finishes rather than just driving up through the pack and earning them.

But we see this sort of thing from time to time in all sports. Occasionally, a Super Bowl winning team won’t make the NFL Playoffs the next season.

Joey Logano

Racing often times is very cyclical. A driver and team can be on top of the world one year, or even in part of the season, them drop off the map later. While I did think Logano and his team would make it further than they did, I didn’t really see them contending for a championship considering how they ran near the end of the regular season.

Yes, it does seem crazy that Logano’s chances would come to an end so early but I would not say it was shocking.

Michael: Logano is pretty good at the first three tracks. I never gave him much consideration as a candidate to not get out of the first round. But an accident and some freak issues sealed the deal on his fate.

It just goes to show every driver and team needs to be on top of their game once the Playoffs start. Kyle Larson was eliminated in the second round last year. And Martin Truex Jr. was almost eliminated this year and he was the regular season champion. As we discussed last week, luck can have as much to do with it as anything else. And that will come into play in this round with Talladega coming up soon.

Please consider also reading:

Trevor Bayne on his limited racing opportunities: “We’re only here to win”

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