All kinds of chaos broke out behind Denny Hamlin as he won Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 At The Glen at Watkins Glen International.
In the rough-and-tumble world of NASCAR road-course racing, however, there were surprisingly few harsh words exchanged afterward, even if there was still a hint of recrimination.
Here’s what Martin Truex Jr., who was chasing Hamlin on the final turn of the race before he was bumped out of the way by Brad Keselowski, said after Keselowski apologized:
“Yeah, definitely unfortunate,” said Truex, who would end up finishing seventh. “I wish we could’ve seen what would’ve happened when we got to the start finish line. It’s … hard racing at the end, all of us going for a win and all of us locked in the Chase.”
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Then there’s Kyle Larson, who might have finished fourth until AJ Allmendinger wrecked him as they raced down the final straightaway.
“He has run me hard, but we always race pretty well, but (Sunday) was flat-out stupid,” said Larson, who finished 29th and saw his hopes for qualifying for the Chase take an equally hard hit. “I love his crew chief (Randall Burnett) to death; he was our engineer last year. It just (stinks) they are going to have to start building some more race cars because he has got a few coming.”
The late wrecks took some attention away from Hamlin, this season’s Daytona 500 champ who won for the first time on a road course. Although Hamlin drove with a sore back, the victory helped ease the pain from the season’s first road-course race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where Tony Stewart passed him on the final lap. It was something from which he learned.
“I think being a little defensive on those final couple laps, making sure I didn’t pull a Sonoma, allowed them to get a little closer than where I was comfortable with,” Hamlin said. “Really, the 2 (Keselowski) and the 78 (Truex) got together probably before the 78 got to me. It was good for us, bad for them for sure. But my job was to just make sure I executed. If somebody was going to beat us, they had to do it on their own.”
After the race, Keselowski immediately approached Truex and apologized.
“It was obviously my fault when you run into the back of somebody,” said Keselowski. “At the last minute he came back up and I was already committed. I didn’t think he would come back up. He got the bad end of it. I hit him from behind and that is my fault. Luckily with the way this Chase is, he probably won’t want to hear it, but it doesn’t hurt him too bad.”
Truex was asked his response to Keselowski admitting it was his fault.
“I know it was,” Truex said. “But that’s racing.”
Truex took Keselowski’s point about them both already having clinched spots in the Chase. How they finish in races between now and the cutoff for the postseason largely doesn’t matter.
“I guess he kind of races with that mentality that hey, it doesn’t really matter where we finish or if we finish,” Truex said. “So we just have to be mindful of that when we’re around him for the rest of the time.”
Allmendinger and Larson, however, don’t have that luxury. Both (Larson 15th, Allmendinger 19th) are without victories this season and are sitting on an ever-shrinking Chase bubble.
“I can’t say sorry enough,” Allmendinger said. “It doesn’t help the case, I spun him out. I didn’t mean to spin him out. For fourth place — it would be different if we were battling for the win, but I just hate it for him. It’s not going to help to say sorry, I know, I would be (mad). He should be. I’m just not very happy with myself on that. It’s on me. I never meant to do it.”
Logano, who slipped past Truex and Keselowski to finish second, offered some perspective. He’s been on either end of the spin-out equation, most recently in the middle of last season’s Chase, when he bumped Matt Kenseth out of the way at Kansas and had the favor returned a few weeks later at Martinsville.
“It’s aggressive racing,” Logano said. “Sometimes you’re on the other end of it. To me, the protocol is show some respect the next few weeks and hope the dust settles. Someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. It depends how understanding the other individual is.
“Sometimes you can look and say, ‘Hey, it’s a racing thing. Next few weeks, just give me room, unless it’s going to become something bigger than what it needs to be.’ ”