Hamlin slaps down speculation over JGR’s youth movement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin is NASCAR’s existing points leader and secured at Joe Gibbs Racing with an agreement extension tattooed at the start of his 17th season with the company.

So when an expert recommended Hamlin and the JGR veterans need to be fretted about their job security, well, Hamlin took that personally.

Hamlin slapped down a sector that dissected last weekend’s wins by JGR chauffeurs Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell. Gibbs won the Xfinity Series race in his very first profession NASCAR nationwide series start, then Bell scored his very first Cup Series success in his 2nd start driving for JGR.

“If I’m a veteran driver in the Gibbs organization, I’m looking over my shoulder and in the rearview mirror because I’m watching my replacement out there win race, win races at the Xfinity level, win races at the Cup level,” stated Kyle Petty, an expert and previous chauffeur.

Hamlin at first reacted on Twitter then even more described his inconvenience in a Wednesday media session.

“I’m not sure who I can equate it to in another sports world, but essentially someone else that’s at the top of their game, and (analysts are) like, ‘Oh, this guy scored 30 off the bench, he’s coming for your starting position,’ OK?” Hamlin said.

It’s worth noting that Hamlin and Petty have had a tense relationship since 2007 when Hamlin, in his second Cup season, ran into the back of Petty’s lapped car at Dover. An irate Petty leaned into Hamlin’s car and slapped down Hamlin’s helmet visor after chastising the young driver. The two have been cordial, at best, since.

It is not unusual for interest to skyrocket in young drivers following a strong on-track showing. And it is particularly common when it comes to JGR; Toyota has a deep driver development system but has only five seats in the Cup Series to graduate its talent.

Four of those seats are held by Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, and former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. both signed extensions for the season-opening race. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch signed his latest contract in 2019.

Bell, who is 26, is a longtime Toyota-backed driver who got a Gibbs seat in his second season of Cup racing.

The Toyota pipeline is deep and JGR has a full crop of young talent in the the Xfinity Series with 24-year-old Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton, who is 20. Ty Gibbs, the 18-year-old grandson of the team owner, has entered the picture with his surprise Saturday win on Daytona’s road course.

JGR has never had enough seats to accommodate all the Toyota drivers so the future of the youngsters is a popular ongoing debate. Hamlin took exception, though, to industry insiders suggesting proven veterans should be concerned about their jobs.

“I can understand it coming from fans because they’re not prefaced to information that analysts or media are,” he said. “So my thing was just like ‘Have you watched one race in the last two years? Have you seen any articles about re-signing?’ It just dumbfounds me.”

Brad Keselowski likewise bristled at the section. The 14-year veteran and previous Cup champ remains in a one-year agreement with Group Penske and waging a battle to show skill defeats all other qualities. Since Keselowski is paid at the luxury of the chauffeur income market, he understands he can be changed by an unverified child for a portion of Keselowski’s income.

“This is all so crazy,” Keselowski reacted to Hamlin on Twitter. “Are you younger and can we pay you less? Do you have any followers on social media? Yes? We like you! There are tons of great young drivers, but the hype train is insane.”

Hamlin’s rebuke started on social networks, which has as soon as again become his sounding board. He was among the very first NASCAR chauffeurs to utilize Twitter to engage with fans and fellow chauffeurs, however NASCAR fined him in 2010 for slamming the series and Hamlin downsized his online existence.

Now that he’s 40 and has a bigger function in the sport — Hamlin along with Michael Jordan are owners of a brand-new Cup group that is Toyota’s 5th Cup seat — he’s resumed his sassy online personality. Fans have actually reacted positively to Hamlin’s snarky current commentary, and Hamlin joked about that, too:

“Obviously, since I am at the end of my career, why care at this point?”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.