MARTINSVILLE — Denny Hamlin is a Virginian.
That does not matter.
Denny Hamlin did nothing wrong during the Xfinity 500 on Sunday.
That did not matter.
In fact, Denny Hamlin did something NASCAR fans typically love to see: He pitched a fit after the race. He drove his 24th-place car that should have been a winning car to the start/finish line and physically put a stop to Alex Bowman’s victory celebration.
That did not seem to matter, either. If it did, it only made the fans hate him more.
“It’s just Chase Elliott fans, man,” Hamlin said of the booers. “They’re don’t think straightly.”
We’ll get to that in a second. For now, just know that Hamlin is disliked at Martinsville Speedway. Severely. He and Kyle Busch were neck-and-neck for “loudest boos during prerace introductions” honors.
And after the race? Those boos were exponentially louder as Hamlin ripped Bowman on television for wrecking him late in the race.
“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of Bowman, his words fighting through the jeers. “He’s just an absolute hack who gets his [bleep] kicked by his teammates every week. He’s [bleepin’] terrible … I went up as high up on the race track to give him all the room I could, and he still can’t drive.”
So, to review: Hamlin was booed for explaining why he was a victim. And a victim is exactly what he was.
Bowman got impatient and ruined Hamlin’s day by spinning him when Hamlin was leading. Bowman swears it was unintentional, said his car just got loose in the turn, said he hated that it happened, but it did.
It’s the kind of thing you see at Martinsville a lot, but usually it’s the spinner and not the spinee who draws the ire of the fans. Not this time.
Hamlin is from Chesterfield. This isn’t his home track; that would be Richmond. Still, he’s won 46 times in the Cup Series. The only other full-time Virginia driver in the series right now in Weyers Cave’s Quin Houff, whose best career finish in two-plus seasons is 13th.
Given that, you’d think Hamlin could muster some home-state support here the way Ricky Rudd, Rick Mast and Stacy Compton could.
It’s fascinating, really. This place used to love Hamlin. When he earned his first of five Martinsville wins here in 2008, the crowd went nuts. When he won three straight here from 2009-10, winner’s fatigue wasn’t a problem in the grandstands.
But then came Oct. 29, 2017. That was the day Elliott, in position to win his first career Cup race at Martinsville, was spun out by Hamlin with three laps remaining.
Elliott would be voted NASCAR’s most popular driver in each of the ensuing three seasons, and he likely will be again this year. People love Elliott everywhere he goes. Not only was he denied a win that night, but also a spot in the Championship 4.
There are other aspects of Hamlin’s personality that can irk fans, but that was the night he mortgaged all his goodwill at Martinsville.
Informed of Hamlin’s comments about his supporters Sunday night, Elliott shrugged.
“I’m going to lose sooooo much sleep tonight,” he said, pausing for the sarcasm to sink in. “My fans don’t care either, by the way.”
Oh, but they do. They’ll use Hamlin’s comments Sunday night as yet another reason to boo him when he comes back in the spring. The home-state tragedy will continue.
Does it bother Hamlin?
“No, not at all,” Hamlin said. “They’re going to boo the [bleep] out of me next week, I can tell you that.”
Ah, yes. That’s right. The playoff finale in Phoenix.
Hamlin’s in the Championship 4. He’s earned it. He has a realistic shot to win next week and claim his first Cup title.
Just don’t expect a home-state parade if he does.