CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin said Tuesday he’s made peace with Kevin Harvick and the drivers have agreed their focus should be only on dethroning four-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.
The two tangled on the track immediately as practice began Saturday at Dover. Harvick initiated the bumping and banging, presumably as retaliation for Hamlin’s outspokenness about Harvick teammate Clint Bowyer’s illegal car.
“Regardless of what happens on the race track, our friendship goes further than that,” Hamlin said during an appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin said the discussion was not on their skirmish Saturday, which continued in the garage after NASCAR ordered both drivers off the track. Instead, he said they discussed the ramifications of continuing a feud.
“The more we chase each other on the race track, the more we’re going to let somebody else, mainly Four-Time (Johnson), make it Five-Time.”
Hamlin is the current Sprint Cup Series points leader and takes a 35-point lead over Johnson into this weekend’s race at Kansas. Harvick led the points for most of the “regular season,” but is currently ranked fifth after two races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Harvick, who has not publicly commented on the incident with Hamlin, trails the leader by 65 points.
The feud began at the start of Saturday’s practice when Harvick intentionally hit Hamlin’s car. Once back in the garage, where they were lined up side-by-side in the same stall, the drivers and their teams exchanged heated words as NASCAR officials surrounded the scene.
Hamlin said he was expecting the contact following his comments Friday about Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing team. Bowyer won the Chase opener at New Hampshire, but his car was ruled illegal three days after the win and NASCAR docked him 150 points.
Bowyer and RCR are alleging that a push from a tow truck to Victory Lane caused damage that contributed to the car failing inspection, and their appeal of the penalty is scheduled for Wednesday.
Hamlin dismissed the tow truck theory and alleged that the entire garage knew RCR had been pushing the limit on its cars for several months.
Hamlin said Tuesday he watched a video of his news conference at Dover and realized he could have handled it differently.
“It was harsh,” Hamlin said. “Maybe I should have just kind of deflected (the questions). I watched Jimmie’s press conference and a lot of other guys before and after me, and they kind of deflected. When it came to them, they just kind of shielded themselves from it, said their piece and it was over with. But to me, I always kind of say too much at times, get too in-depth.”
Hamlin has become increasingly vocal over the past year and was fined $50,000 by NASCAR in July for comments he made in public and on Twitter about ill-timed cautions. His Twitter participation has leveled off sharply since, but said Tuesday he sometimes can’t help himself.
What set him off, he explained, was Bowyer’s earlier reference to Hamlin’s car needing two tries to make it through at-track inspection at New Hampshire.
“It’s just the spur of the moment, when somebody takes a jab, I want to take a punch,” he said. “I sat up in my seat and got defensive. I knew as soon as I left the media center there was going to be repercussions whether it be on the race track or a phone call from (Childress) himself.
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking that when I was saying what I was saying. I was thinking ‘Let me stick up for my race team first, and then I’ll throw them under the bus second.’”