Denny Hamlin: ‘I’m done justifying and defending myself’
Denny Hamlin was back at the track Friday, when he set the fast time during practice for Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. Afterwards, Hamlin delivered an impassioned discussion on his health, or more correctly unspecified rumors about it.
Thirty-five minutes before the start of last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing team president J.D. Gibbs announced that Hamlin was a last-minute scratch because of a sinus problem that was affecting his vision and giving him headaches.
On Wednesday, JGR announced that Hamlin was medically cleared to race this weekend and that the actual cause of his eye problem was a piece of metal that got into it. The metal started to get rust around it, which infected Hamlin’s eye and made it hurt even more.
"At the hospital (on Sunday) they found the metal and I felt better instantly, that doesn’t mean that was the whole problem," said Hamlin. "We had to go through two more days of testing in Charlotte to realize that the sinus part was okay. They got everything out on Monday. Basically around the metal it built a rust ring so there was like a ring of rust around it. They needed time for that to harden for them to pick that out. Once (the doctor) got that out I felt better yet. That’s why nothing was said for a few days is because I don’t want to be speaking out of line and not knowing exactly what I’m talking about until I know exactly what the problem was."
Hamlin’s medical issues were resolved quickly enough, but the JGR driver was angry about what was being said about him in the last week — even if he didn’t serve up precisely what or who set him off.
Asked if his reputation was somehow affected by the events of the last week, Hamlin was blunt.
"I’m going to try not to get mad," Hamlin said. "Like I just said, my health is my business, but what if it was cancer or tumor — I don’t have to tell anyone that. It’s my business. People who think negatively of me or think that we side-stepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous. I’m in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR, I would have to be an absolute moron — moron — to risk that. I have a daughter that I have to provide for a really long time."
But Hamlin was just getting started.
"For people to question who I am inside and outside the race car, I’ve never done anything to even put that in question," he said. "I go to (Charlotte) Bobcats games, I go out and hang out with friends out in public — I don’t stay tucked in my motorhome, I don’t stay tucked into my house, it’s not what I like to do. Because I’m out there a little bit more people think I go out and I party. I got a wakeup call because I don’t drink at all, hardly ever. I’ve never done drugs, ever. I’m as clean as they come."
Hamlin did not specify who he was referring to in his comments – who the "people" he mentioned actually were or who was allegedly questioning his character.
Within our NASCAR community rumors become truth when enough people say it.
"I don’t know why people question who I am outside the race track," Hamlin said. "I worked too hard to get here, for one, to throw it all away. If anyone has any questions about that, they can ask me directly. People who assume, people like that. I’ll tell you, but it bothers me that my character is questioned. People think that there’s some kind of conspiracy because like I said, I worked too hard to get here and itâs what I’ve wanted to do since I was five years old. There’s not one thing in the world that I would do to switch positions with anyone in the world because I just feel that lucky.
"I’m done justifying and defending myself on those things. I’m not going to let those people drag me down," Hamlin added. "It’s just frustrating — just because I’m out there a little bit more in the public. That bugs me because I’m a human being and I like doing fun things. If people think I have to go out and I have to drink to have fun, they’re wrong and they haven’t hung out with me because I don’t. It just bothers me because there’s people that like to make rumors and of course within our NASCAR community rumors become truth when enough people say it. I’m done."