Kyle Larson, who is usually calm and reserved, was anything but following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was seeing red after contact from Denny Hamlin, the eventual race-winner, hampered Larson’s car in the closing laps and ended his hopes of a third win on the season.
After climbing from his car after a disappointing 20th-place finish, Larson was not happy with Hamlin, his friend, and competitor.
“Just unfortunate,” Larson seethed in his post-race interview on USA Network. “I’ve been cost a lot of good finishes by him throughout my career. I know he says I race a certain way, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to apologize to him about anything. Not that he’s going to say sorry after this. But it is what it is. Whatever. Just move on.”
Larson says that while he is upset with how he was raced, he will not let what transpired on Sunday ruin his friendship with Hamlin. But he reiterated that he is not pleased with how the race at Pocono played out.
“Yeah, we’re friends. Yes, this makes things shitty and awkward. Whatever. He’s always right,” Larson said. “All the buddies know Denny is always right. 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 the track, but I am pissed. And I feel like I should be pissed.”
While Larson was upset, Hamlin stated in his victory lane interview that he never made contact with Larson on Lap 154. The replay of the battle from the USA Network broadcast tells a different story.
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Knowing that Hamlin put him in the fence for the race lead, will Larson race Hamlin differently going forward?
“I think at this point I have to, right,” Larson stated emphatically. “Like I said, I’ve never had to apologize to him about anything — anything I’ve done on the racetrack. I can count four or five times, where he’s had to reach out to me and say, ‘Ah man, I’m sorry, I put you in a bad spot,’ or whatever. So, eventually, like he says, you have to start racing people a certain way to get the respect back.”
Adding to Larson’s frustration was the fact that the move that was pulled on him on Sunday, was the same move that Hamlin had reserved for his bitter rival, Ross Chastain last year at Pocono Raceway. While Larson understood why Hamlin would pull it with Chastain, who had numerous run-ins with Hamlin, he didn’t feel like he deserved that kind of treatment.
“He pulled the same move on Ross last year, which Ross probably deserved it, right? With all of the stuff he’s done to Denny in his career. Again, I haven’t done that to Denny, so I don’t think I deserve to get run into before I even got to the wall. Just it is what it is.”
Two of the best drivers on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit are at odds with each other, and up next is Richmond Raceway, a 0.750-mile short track. If the two are unable to resolve their differences before next weekend, things could get really, really interesting.
Rick Hendrick has already made his stance perfectly clear when it comes to his drivers defending themselves in these situations.
“If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back,” Hendrick stated after Larson was wiped out by Ross Chastain while battling for the win at Darlington in May. “And if you don’t do it, they’ll run all over you.