Woody: Hamlin Waging Psychological Warfare?
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
I don’t know if Denny Hamlin really believes that Clint Bowyer drove a cheated-up Chevy a couple of weeks ago, and that such shenanigans were rampant at Richard Childress Racing.
What Denny REALLY thinks doesn’t matter. What counts is that he got the goat of a lot of folks at RCR’s NASCAR operation. He got under their skin and created turmoil and distraction in the enemy camp.
That distraction was evident when RCR driver Kevin Harvick intentionally banged into Hamlin during practice for last Sunday’s Dover race. It was a clear case of chrome pay-back.
It also was evident that Kevin’s mind was partly on the controversy instead of 100 percent on his driving. Could that explain why Harvick finished 15th and plunged three spots in the standings?
Maybe, maybe not. Even before Hamlin got the RCR camp riled, Harvick had shown signs of a late-season stumble.
If Hamlin was taking shots at Bowyer and RCR purely as a salvo of psychological warfare, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened in racing.
Darrell Waltrip was a master of mind games. He had a knack for riling his rivals and getting them off-stride. He often had Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough in a sputtering dither, and once in the midst of a tight championship battle with Bill Elliott he joked about how discombobulated he had gotten “poor ‘ol Bill.”
That could be what Hamlin is doing now. If so, it seems to be working.
Team owner Joe Gibbs, as he usually does when one of his drivers stirs up trouble, sent a muddled message. He said he regretted what Hamlin said, but stood by him.
What Gibbs says or thinks at this point doesn’t matter. It’s hard to get the hornets back in the nest once they’re stirred up.
All we know for sure is that after the dust-up Harvick and Bowyer were never in contention last Sunday, finishing well back of Hamlin. Jeff Burton, a steady RCR veteran, kept his mind on his business and pocketed a solid second.
The pre-race antics made for great theater. They were a lot more interesting than the race itself. (You wonder if some of the drivers missed a wakeup call and don’t realize the Chase is under way.)
Meanwhile Denny, deliberately or not, obviously got a serious challenger off-stride. That could be critical as the battle continues.
Of course a ploy like that can backfire. A fiery racer like Harvick is liable to give Hamlin more than a practice bump next time, and Bowyer – with nothing left to lose – might decide to take his antagonist down with him.
One thing’s for sure, Hamlin has the pot boiling heading into Kansas this weekend.
It remains to be seen who gets burned.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments