ANDERS: Hamlin-Wallace spat starts year off strong
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, February 25, 2018
The Daytona 500 produced a thrilling, controversial last-lap pass and a victory for an iconic number.
But if there’s one thing sports fans love more than a cool story and the extension of a legacy, it’s two guys throwing angry jabs at one another after an accident. Naturally, that means everyone rolled into Atlanta this weekend talking not about Austin Dillon returning the No. 3 car to Victory Lane in the sport’s biggest race, but about the potential for a budding rivalry that came out of the battle for second behind him.
After Denny Hamlin and Darrell Wallace Jr. got together and hit the wall coming to the checkered flag, with Wallace edging Hamlin for second to post his best Cup Series result, Wallace launched a zinger at Hamlin during his post-race interview claiming Hamlin “needed some Adderall” to avoid the contact, which Hamlin said was the result of a flat tire.
The line was a reference to Hamlin being called to NASCAR’s hauler the day before the race to discuss an appearance on a podcast in which he estimated “70 percent” of drivers took Adderall to focus for a race, an action that is explicitly banned by the sport’s drug abuse policy. Hamlin later said the remark was made tongue-in-cheek and was not meant to be taken seriously.
The 2016 Daytona 500 champion angrily confronted Wallace when the two crossed paths near the media center after the race, but the rookie didn’t back down, telling Hamlin his off-the-cuff remark “makes us all look bad” and remarking later in the week that apparently it was a “one-way street” for Hamlin to be able to make jokes, but not take them.
Hamlin isn’t quite the black hat teammate Kyle Busch is, but he has shown a villainous side on plenty of occasions (see: Elliott, Chase). Wallace, on the other hand, is a new kid on the block, but the fact he was willing to take Hamlin to task so publicly is a sign he isn’t just going to roll over and bow to the more established driver in Hamlin.
Wallace claimed this week he was “good” as far as the dispute with Hamlin was concerned, but the whole episode — coupled with his runner-up finish — got him a ton of exposure and stands as a fantastic potential jumping off point for raising his NASCAR profile. After all, despite having a handful of Camping World Truck Series wins under his belt, he’s only 24 and the Daytona 500 was just his sixth Cup Series start.
Though not braggadocious or a showman, per se, Wallace has shown himself to have a ton of personality and not be afraid to call someone out when necessary. That will make him stand out as he tries to acclimate himself to a full-time ride in Richard Petty Motorsports’ famed No. 43 car.
No one in their right mind is expecting Wallace to be a weekly contender the way Hamlin should be this season, but if the two find themselves around one another on the track in the near future, it will be interesting to see how much carries over and how much room the two will give each other.
Regardless of where it heads, starting the year off with a strong dose of conflict makes for a fun note on which to ride into today’s race at Atlanta.
Atlanta should be a wild one, with drivers trying to figure out how to navigate a track with little to no grip. One guy has been able to do that better than most, leading 56.5 percent of the laps (737 of 1,305) in the last four races there. All those races slipped away without a win, but I think that changes today. PICK: Kevin Harvick.
Contact Jordan Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.