BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Their feud started with some Twitter posts about the closing laps of the Daytona 500 and it heightened three weeks later at Bristol Motor Speedway, where an on-track spin nearly led to post-race fisticuffs.
Things took a turn for the worse between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano a week later at Fontana when the two drivers refused to give an inch while attempting to win. It led to a crash, a broken vertebra for Hamlin and a destroyed relationship between the former teammates.
As they return this weekend to Bristol a year later, Hamlin has finally put his malevolent feelings toward Logano aside.
“We’re OK,” Hamlin said. “We don’t talk or anything like that more than we should and really no less than we should, I would say. You can hold grudges all you want, but it’s not going to make you any faster and it’s not going to get you any closer to a championship.
“I’m bitter in ways, and in other ways it’s been so long ago and there’s so many trials and tribulations between then and now, that I think I’m a better person now and I think I’m a better driver now.”
Said Logano: “I feel like we’re fine. A year is a long time. It’s over now. I feel like we’ve moved on.”
Hamlin missed almost five full races with his back injury and struggled through constant pain upon his return in May. He refused to end his season early, even when it became apparent he’d miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the first time in his career.
But in finishing out the year, Hamlin earned his only victory of the season in the finale at Homestead. He carried that momentum through the offseason and was strong during Speedweeks, where he won two races and finished second in the Daytona 500.
The performance tailed off at Phoenix and Las Vegas, where Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole seemed to be off, but Hamlin bounced back this weekend at Bristol. He set a track record in qualifying and will start from the pole in Sunday’s race.
Logano, who qualified fourth, will start in the row behind Hamlin and understands people want to rehash the relationship.
“Obviously, people were talking about it this week because it’s the one-year anniversary of the whole fiasco,” Logano said. “But you move on and forget about things. You’re supposed to forgive and forget and that goes both ways, so we both knew what we had to do and I feel like we’ve moved on and we’re going from there.”
Hamlin doesn’t expect any problems like last year, when he spun Logano while Logano was racing for the lead. It led to a post-race confrontation that involved the crews for both teams.
“As far as my relationship with him, I treat him with respect on the race track, as I should,” said Hamlin, who chooses to limit his conversations with Logano because “what do you say? How can you express how upset you are with someone without punching them?”
The two have had no choice but to coexist because as Coca-Cola sponsored drivers, they’ve had to work with each other at various events and long commercial shoots. Logano said they spent three hours inside a van together at a recent shoot.
“I felt like by the end of it, we all got along well,” he said. “That’s the good thing about it – Coca-Cola brings us all back together and puts a smile on everybody’s face.”
Hamlin said he’s been cordial.
“I don’t really force it too much. I mean, there’s awkward moments,” he said. “You’re face-to-face with someone and you’re having to talk during a commercial. You have those moments where you just as soon look away – and you do.”
Hamlin said he learned to deal with adversaries while rising through the racing ranks, and he’s trying to treat Logano the same as he treated his childhood rivals. He recalled opportunities to pass a nemesis on the track, but deliberately staying on their bumper to hound them and play mind games.
“You sit there and watch them get so nervous, they bobble and mess up and get out of the way anyway. That to me is more fun than going in there and wrecking someone,” Hamlin said. “You really don’t say anything to them.
“You don’t kill `em with kindness, you kill `em with silence. And maybe it’s the silence that makes the person worry.”