Anger, frustration flare after Martinsville Cup playoff race

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Name-calling, flashing double birds and a chorus of boos filled the air Sunday night after 501 laps at Martinsville Speedway.

Call it the pressure of the playoffs, a long season coming to an end or just a genuine dislike for one another, but drivers were on edge during chaotic final laps that saw contact for the lead and contact after the checkered flag waved.

Alex Bowman won to Denny Hamlin’s disgust. They hit with eight laps to go, spinning Hamlin out of the lead. Hamlin still advanced to next week’s Championship 4, but that did little to quell his anger.

“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of Bowman to NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after the race. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.”

Less than three hours after the race, Bowman was selling T-shirts with “HACK” on it.

Before the marketing pitch, Bowman explained what happened with Hamlin.

“Hate that we got into (Hamlin),” Bowman said. “Unintentional. I just got underneath him and spun him out. I’d be mad, too. I get it. But he’s been on the other side of that enough to understand.”

Bowman noted that Hamlin wrecked him last year at Texas.

“Texted me and apologized,” Bowman said. “Said he’d give me a ride on his jet. I don’t know. We’re even, I guess, after that. He crashed the heck out of me there. He got loose underneath me, exact same thing just on a bigger racetrack.

“Yeah, sarcasm there, obviously. Just my point is the shoe has been on the other foot. Like we’ve been on both sides of it.”

Hamlin showed his displeasure by driving his car to Bowman’s as Bowman prepared to do celebratory burnouts. Hamlin nosed his car against Bowman’s and flashed a pair of middle fingers.

Bowman remained in his car, unsure what would happen next.

NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500
Denny Hamlin showed his anger at Alex Bowman by blocking and nosing his car to Bowman’s after the race. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“Have you ever been to Bowman Gray Stadium?” Bowman said, referring to the track known for tight racing and temper tantrums on the track.

“I’ve gone there and watched. That’s what it felt like. When they had that TV show with the mods running there, I watched the heck out of that. It was really entertaining then. Not so entertaining when you’re living it.

“Just didn’t want to be a part of that, make us both look dumb. So, I just tried to not be a part of it. I wasn’t going to try to do stuff like that. That’s not who I am.”

When Hamlin’s interview was played on the track’s P.A. system, a chorus of boos cascaded toward the Virginia driver.

Later, Hamlin was asked about his reaction to being booed by fans in his home state.

“It’s just Chase Elliott fans,” said Hamlin, who earned their ire four years when he spun Elliott out of the lead at Martinsville. “They don’t think straightly.”

Elliott was told what Hamlin said and asked his reaction.

“I’m going to lose so much sleep tonight,” Elliott said in jest. “I might not sleep at all. That’s how concerned I am (smiling).”

My fans don’t care either, by the way.”

Kyle Busch had sharper words for Brad Keselowski after the race. Busch was not happy with Keselowski’s final move as they raced for second.

Keselowski had been aggressive late in the race, needing to win. Instead, he finished third and didn’t advance to the Championship 4 in his final season with car owner Roger Penske.

Busch did not appreciate Keselowski’s driving on the final lap.

“He drills my ass coming out of (Turn) 4 for no reason,” Busch said. “Where was he going? What was he going to do? Spin me out?

“He was trying to do a Harvick is what he was trying to do (Kevin Harvick spun Busch on the last lap of last year’s Martinsville playoff race). For what? For second place? To do what? He wasn’t going to transfer through with that. Freaking (R-word). So stupid. I don’t understand these guys.

“I should beat the shit out of him right now is what I should do, but that doesn’t do me any good either.”

Why not?

“I’ve already had to pay enough fines in my lifetime,” Busch said. “I’m sure I’ll get another one.”

Busch later tweeted an apology for using the R-word.

Asked about the contact with Busch after the race, Keselowski said: “I don’t know what he was thinking. He was mad at something. He was mad at himself? He was mad at me? I don’t sweat that.”

He was among the few who felt that way.

Elliott was spun after contact from Keselowski, but Elliott took the blame for that.

“I was racing him hard on the outside,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t super surprised that he made a mistake. As hard as he hit me, I knew he just didn’t clean me out on purpose. I figured he wheel hopped or something. I haven’t seen it. Really, moving on was all that mattered.

“I had made some bad choices on adjustments, kind of got us behind. The real reason that happened was because I made a bad decision on what to do to our car. We started playing defense. When you start playing defense, you typically start crashing a lot of times, especially when guys need to win.”

Martin Truex Jr. knows the feeling. He finished fourth and could joke afterward about a late incident that sent him into the wall and had him questioning what he was to do after someone hit him.

He was calmer later after joining Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Elliott in next weekend’s title race at Phoenix.

“Got slammed into the wall,” he said. “I don’t know. I have no idea how we finished fourth. I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”

Even a winning lottery ticket might not make some people happy after Sunday’s race.