Hamlin makes error worse by not accepting blame
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[October 31, 2017]
By Jonathan Ingram, The Sports Xchange
It was more than tempting to feel sorry for Chase Elliott after the
NASCAR playoff race at Martinsville Speedway.
A first career victory was within his grasp in the Round of 8 before
Elliott got booted out of the lead going into Turn 3 in the closing
laps, which added some emotional fireworks to the first Cup race
under the lights on NASCAR's oldest track.
Instead of advancing to the championship round at Homestead
Miami-Speedway, the 21-year-old Elliott found himself jawboning with
Denny Hamlin after finishing 27th.
It was easy to read Elliott's lips as the two drivers faced off next
to their cars -- crippled by the usual Martinsville race combat as
well as the younger Chevrolet driver's post-race bashing of Hamlin's
"You wrecked me," repeated Elliott to whatever Hamlin had to say.
Poor Hamlin had suffered from "the red mist" with three laps to go
and had indeed wrecked Elliott. The Virginia driver also derailed
any chance of breaking out of his championship slump. Instead of a
runner-up finish or a possible victory, Hamlin's hastiness stalled
any momentum his Joe Gibbs Racing team might have had. After
finishing seventh, Hamlin is eight points below the cut line.
The scenario gave Kyle Busch the opportunity to score his fifth
victory of the season and continue as one of the favorites in the
title run along with fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr., who
As for Hamlin, it turns out he was making excuses -- to Elliott and
to the media afterward. As badly as one might feel for Elliott,
Hamlin's post-race performance was an even sorrier spectacle than
punting the younger driver out of the groove.
Elliott will soon enough get that first victory and remains a very
good candidate to advance to the championship finale if he doesn't
make it this year -- and the odds are now very long. But Hamlin's
response to his own error indicated why he's still struggling with a
championship after all these years and 31 career victories.
In addition to usually being a nice guy, Hamlin has the distinction
of the driver with the most victories of any active competitor
without a championship. Under the lights at Martinsville, which may
have reminded him of his early days at Southside Speedway in
Midlothian, Va., Hamlin saw a chance to get the lead and completely
lost control. It's otherwise known as a case of "the red mist" --
when a driver sees a victory in the offing before it actually
happens and loses the usual perspective.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was known to get "the red mist" on occasion and
clear a path to victory lane with his bumper. His dumping of Terry
Labonte at the Bristol Motor Speedway comes to mind. But Earnhardt
Sr. generally earned his seven titles with consistency and speed.
His ethos was to dare other drivers to race him the same way he
raced. Hamlin, in this case, left Elliott no alternative other than
riding into the wall.
Despite unseasonably cold temperatures, it had been an outstanding
day of Martinsville-style racing up until this incident. Drives ran
hard and close, banging rear fenders to rattle the driver ahead and
occasionally using bump-and-runs after the trailing driver proved he
was faster by constant contact.
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Drivers slid into one another, sometimes causing tire problems, but
it all fell within the realm of a typical day at the bullring.
That's why Hamlin's post-race rationalizations and excuses came
across more as an insult. The usual posture is to acknowledge one's
error and express some form of an apology. Long after the fact,
Hamlin did issue an apology to Elliot and his team by dropping a
message on Twitter. But instead of apologizing at the track, Hamlin
said everybody else had been doing the same thing -- which was
patently false. And then he accused Elliott of running Brad
Keselowski out of the groove to get the lead one lap before their
Keselowski, who also desperately wanted a victory to advance, made
two errors on his final re-start with his Team Penske Ford in the
lead. He chose the outside groove, which gave front row starter
Elliott a chance to get a run on the inside.
And, by not holding his line in Turn 3, Keselowski gave Elliott all
the room he needed to get by on the inside before inevitable contact
sent Keselowski into the marbles. Keselowski didn't complain after
the race and Elliott, who led 123 laps, had clearly earned the
"That's what short tracks are kind of about is rooting and gauging,"
said Keselowski, whose Ford had trouble establishing grip on the
final restart in regulation. "You try not to take anybody out, but
you've got to sometimes rub a little bit."
After knocking Elliott out of the way, Hamlin failed to hold his
line on his next two laps of green going into Turn 3 during overtime
-- getting passed by race winner Busch the first time and then
losing several positions in the last lap melee begun when he ran
wide and left the door open yet again.
Hamlin did not have the handling or the car to win the race. In the
closing laps of the regulation distance, he didn't give himself a
chance to find out what his car could do or if it was better than
Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. He was asked about the
face-to-face with Elliott after the race.
"Well, he said I wrecked him and obviously, you know Ray Charles saw
that. Obviously, it wasn't intentional, I wanted to move him out of
the way and there was just not enough grip on the race track for him
to save it. There's no difference, he washed (Keselowski) up the
race track as well. I mean, we can play favorites with who we want.
Unfortunately, this is a ticket to Homestead at stake."
Hamlin couldn't decide if an apology was in order and blamed his
mistake on a narrative of his own making. He blamed his own problems
after taking the lead on something other than a car not capable of
holding the lead. He blamed his error on the pressure of the
playoffs. He did everything but simply accept responsibility for
ruining Elliott's chance of victory and an otherwise great playoff
Martinsville is about emotional grip as much as the mechanical grip
of chassis and tires. Poor Hamlin didn't have enough of either on
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