Denny Hamlin addresses meme controversy at Dover

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DOVER, Del. — Denny Hamlin said he understood NASCAR’s response to a tweet he sent this week and why the sanctioning body took action.

NASCAR required Hamlin to begin sensitivity training ahead of the Dover race weekend after Hamlin posted an anti-Asian meme on Twitter meant to poke fun at Kyle Larson, whose move on the final lap at Talladega created contact that eliminated both 23XI Racing cars Hamlin co-owns.

“I respect their decision. I understand where they’re at with it,” Hamlin said Saturday. “I’ve done my own sensitivity training. I did diversity training on my own when I started this race team. I went with the best in the country and spent time with them and I understand it all. I didn’t think this fell into that category, but certainly I understand their decision and it is what it is.”

Hamlin’s tweet included a clip from the show “Family Guy” that references a female Asian driver, over which Larson’s name was superimposed. Larson’s mother is Asian American.

“I saw the correlation in the driving. That was it,” Hamlin said. “I didn’t even think twice about the other (racial implications), which is — that’s the insensitive part, right? Whoever created it put I guess his name in front of a woman who’s speaking Asian, I guess you’re making fun of that.”

Hamlin said he didn’t create the meme himself but received it.

“I thought it was hilarious, but it also is insensitive. I understand,” Hamlin said. “I definitely understand how some people could find it offensive. And if it’s one, then it’s one too many.”

Larson said Saturday he wasn’t personally offended by the meme because of his friendship with Hamlin but acknowledged many others may have been.

“I know — and I think he knows now — how there’s millions of other people that a tweet like that could offend,” Larson said. “So no hard feelings from me, but I think after you put something out there, you realize how offensive it can be.”

Larson was suspended by NASCAR in April 2020 for uttering a racial slur on iRacing, missing the final 32 races of the season. Now the defending Cup champion, Larson said Hamlin will grow from the mistake.

“NASCAR did what they had to do, and I appreciate Denny going through the steps to learn from that,” Larson said. “Obviously, it was just poor judgement on his part, and I think being in the position that we’re in, you have to be very careful with what you put out into the public. I know he’ll learn a lot from it here in these next couple weeks, and I think we’re all just ready to move past it and get back focused on racing.”

Hamlin is typically very vocal on Twitter and said the outcome of this tweet is “discouraging,” but he plans to continue to voice his opinions on social media.

“I’ll always continue to be me and it’s not always going to be the most popular thing,” Hamlin said. “But I just am who I am and certainly I never will stop continuing to grow. I always want to be a better person, better dad, better partner, better team owner, better driver. I always strive to try to be better, and I work really hard at it. That’s why, voluntarily, I did this more extensive training on my own years ago.

“It just worked out the way it did, and certainly I put myself in a bad spot.”

Hamlin has previously said he thrives in chaos. In 10 races, the No. 11 team’s only top-10 finish is a win at Richmond Raceway on April 3. The distractions of this week haven’t hindered him, as evidenced by his second-place qualifying effort at Dover.

“I think you historically look back at my performance to distraction, and it typically correlates to a pretty good weekend,” Hamlin said. “So I’d probably bet on us if I were you.”