Fired up Denny Hamlin: ‘I love the feeling of just proving people wrong’

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PHOENIX — Saying he thrives in chaos, Denny Hamlin was full throttle during Thursday’s Championship 4 Media Day, describing his displeasure with Alex Bowman and how that will help fuel him in Sunday’s title race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

While Hamlin’s championship foes were calm (Chase Elliott), laid back (Kyle Larson) and jovial (Martin Truex Jr.), Hamlin was outspoken and forceful.

It showed how far Hamlin has come from his first championship race experience. Back in 2010, he was seated on a stage between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. Both drivers needled the wide-eyed Hamlin that day, who later lost the title that weekend.

Thursday, drivers were at their own stations speaking to the media. Hamlin had the largest crowd for much of the 50-minute session.

He explained why he was so upset with Bowman spinning him out of the lead in the final laps last weekend at Martinsville.

“I really wanted to make a pretty strong statement at Martinsville,” Hamlin said. “Starting in the back, going back to the back again, and driving all the way to the front and winning that race would be like the old foot on the throat heading into this weekend.

“I feel that momentum was taken from us. The momentum in my head swings back around to now I’m ultra-motivated. I love the feeling of just proving people wrong.”

Asked if he was still mad at Bowman, Hamlin said:

“I am because it’s just a lack of situational awareness, and if the roles were reversed, that team would be as pissed off as I was that their season was nearly taken away because of someone’s irresponsibility.”

Hamlin expressed his displeasure after the race by calling Bowman a hack in his interview on NBC. A few hours later, Bowman was selling T-shirts with that phrase on it. Hamlin’s response to the shirt?

“They’re going to thrive off any kind of bump or hit that they can get during that time,” he said. “I think the drivers, in general in our series, lack originality, so I’m glad I could help with that.”

Hamlin, who is in his 16th full-time Cup season, lamented how the way he learned how to drive is fading away in NASCAR.

“I feel like I’m just more of a purist than most,” he said. “Again, that’s what fires me up so much about stuff like last week or even Indy (when he was spun by Chase Briscoe for the lead in the final laps). It’s like, ‘Man, we didn’t even have a chance to, like, battle. Let’s go toe-to-toe, two drivers, battle for a race win.’

“In today’s world, people will just accept getting knocked out of the way. People accept it now. We used to show highlights of the bump-and-run with Rusty (Wallace) and Jeff Gordon. Now, no one gives a (expletive). It’s just part of normal, everyday racing.

“The craft of actually being good at technique and passing and working someone over, that craft has kind of just gone away. It’s not for good or bad. Everyone can race their own particular way, but it’s just a different certainly mentality when you look at what’s coming from the Truck Series, on up to Xfinity, and now it’s making its way all the way up to Cup. It’s a different mentality.”

He went on to say: “My breed, like (Kevin) Harvick’s breed, is a dying breed. We understand that. But we’re not going to change just because other people want us to.”

While his other title contenders are not embroiled in controversy, Hamlin welcomed it Thursday. He was asked how he can not let it distract him.

“How do I get up every morning and take my kids to school at 7:30?” Hamlin said. “How do I go to 23XI (Racing) and work for a couple days in the middle of the week during a playoff run? I live in chaos. My life is chaos. I thrive under chaos.

“Honestly, you can ask Kyle (Larson). The more (expletive) is stirred up around me, the more I come at it. I don’t mind things like that.”

Asked if he really embraced that, Hamlin said: “Absolutely. To me, it’s fuel. Like, I have so much fuel in my tank right now from just motivation. There’s a lot of motivation there.”

To prove it, he noted his inability to win a championship. While he has 46 Cup wins and three Daytona 500s, he’s never won a series title. Junior Johnson is the only driver in NASCAR history with more wins (50) than Hamlin and doesn’t have a series title.

“Everyone’s go-to is, ‘You haven’t won a championship,’” Hamlin said. “There’s nothing else they can say. There’s just nothing else they can say.

“To me, I’m so motivated to go out there and show ’em what’s up. I think it’s fuel for me. It really is fuel for me. People don’t get in my head in a negative way. I turn it into positives, into motivation.

“Some people like to go in a hole and hide from it. I do not. I go at it head on. Anyone who’s around me knows, a lot of you in the media who have followed my career, when things go haywire or (expletive) hits the fan, I usually come out swinging.

“We will come out swinging again.”