Denny Hamlin wins at Pocono, Kyle Larson not happy with Hamlin

Denny Hamlin scored his 50th Cup win on Sunday at Pocono, but it was not without incident.

As the Virginia native did his celebratory burnout, the crowd made their displeasure apparent with loud boos. Kyle Larson expressed his frustration with Hamlin after an incident and indicated that there was a lack of respect given to him out on the track.

The two drivers battled for the lead entering Turn 1 on a restart with seven laps to go. Hamlin moved up the track, which pushed Larson toward the outside wall. The No. 5 Chevrolet made contact with the wall while the No. 11 moved to the top of the leaderboard.

Larson made his displeasure known under caution as he door-slammed Hamlin before moving back into his spot in the running order.

The contact was reminiscent of last season’s race at Pocono when Ross Chastain hit the wall after Hamlin moved him up the track.

“There was a lane,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after the race. “(Larson) missed the corner first, and evidently he didn’t have his right-side tires clean. When he gassed up, he just kept going again.

“You know, you have an option in those positions to either hold it wide open and hit the fence or lift and race it out.”

Larson had a different view of the situation. He told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon that “All the buddies know, Denny’s always right, so I’m sure he was in the right there as well.

“It is what it is. I’m not going to let it tarnish a friendship on track, but I am pissed. And I feel like I should be pissed.”

Was there anything malicious in how Hamlin raced Larson? He does not believe so.

“If I’m gonna give anyone in the field respect, it’s going to be Kyle Larson,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin viewed the incident simply as the product of racing for the win in this era of NASCAR where drivers do whatever it takes to get that all-important win.

“’It’s what I had to do.’ That’s what you hear, right?” Hamlin said. “I didn’t have to, but I had to race hard for win.

“Was I going to let off and give him all this extra room? Absolutely not. No way. I wanted to race side-by-side because I earned the spot of getting beside him.”

The hard racing paid off for Hamlin. The future Hall of Famer is now one of 15 drivers in NASCAR history to win 50 Cup races. This is also his second win of the season after Kansas, which adds another five playoff points to his total.

Regardless of intent, the contact between Larson and Hamlin will be the focus heading to next weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway, a track known for close-quarters racing. There is a possibility that Larson will race Hamlin differently, something that he acknowledged during his post-race interview.

“I think at this point, I have to,” Larson said. “Like I 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 when he’s had to reach out to me and be like, ‘ah, man, sorry, I put you in a bad spot there.’

“Eventually, like he says, you’ve got to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back.”

What does this entail? Will Larson move Hamlin toward the wall, or will he simply race him harder for position? There is no clear answer. Whatever happens, Hamlin will view it through the lens of racing.

“Certainly, if he feels as though he owes me one on the racetrack, then then that’s up for him to decide,” Hamlin said. “And I will distinguish that differently than our friendship off the racetrack.”

History indicates that Larson and Hamlin will continue to have a good relationship off of the track. The situation may change when they are behind the wheel of their respective stock cars.

History also shows that Hamlin will continue to receive loud boos regardless of the track on the schedule. He has heard boos after calling Alex Bowman a hack at Martinsville in 2021, he heard boos after spinning Chase Elliott at Martinsville in 2017, and he heard boos during driver intros at Pocono this season.

No driver wants to get booed by the fans, but they prefer it over silence. For Hamlin, the boos at least show that the fans are invested in the sport. He just isn’t going to push for fan approval.

“I’m just too old to care,” Hamlin said. “I mean, had I got another 20 years ahead of me, then I get it. But fandom doesn’t give me trophies. fandom doesn’t do the job for me.

“In my career, I just had some pivotal moments getting into guys when they were super popular and I just kind of wasn’t. So I’m okay with it because the fans were passionate about what they saw.”

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