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Sprint Cup rivals Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano at peace — for now

Crews tussle after a confrontation involving Joey Logano (back right, partly hidden) and Denny Hamlin (not shown) at Bristol last year.

Getty Images (2013)

Crews tussle after a confrontation involving Joey Logano (back right, partly hidden) and Denny Hamlin (not shown) at Bristol last year.

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin's injured back has returned to normal, but the fracture between him and former teammate Joey Logano created a rift that might never completely heal.

A crash last season on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., sidelined Hamlin for four weeks and part of a fifth, irreparably crippling his 2013 title hopes.

But an incident the previous week at Bristol Motor Speedway ignited the flames.

Believing he was wrecked by Hamlin on Lap 349 of the 2013 Food City 500, Logano approached Hamlin's car right after the race, leading to a scuffle between Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing crew and Logano's Team Penske teammates.

Then came the fender banging on the final lap in California that sent Hamlin's car careening into the fence. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in the crash and was airlifted to a local hospital.

Both drivers say they're trying to put the past in their mirrors, but that's easier said than done.

"You can hold grudges all you want, but that's not going to make you any faster and not going to get you any closer to the championship," Hamlin said Friday after earning the pole for today's Food City 500.

"I'm bitter in ways. In other ways, it's been so long and there have been so many trials and tribulations between then and now. … I think I'm a better person now — and I think I'm a better driver."

At least this season he has been — he won twice during Speedweeks at Daytona, was second in the Daytona 500 and sits eighth in points after three races.

Logano starts fourth today alongside Matt Kenseth, the driver who replaced him at JGR last season.

"A year is a long time. It's over now. I feel like we've moved on," said Logano, who a year ago tweeted a reference to Hamlin after Daytona, calling him a "freaking genius behind the wheel of the (No.) 11 car" and "probably the worst teammate I ever had."

In retrospect, Logano termed the incident with Hamlin a "fiasco."

"We did that Coca-Cola family commercial and all sat in a van for about three hours," Logano said. "I felt, by the end of it, we all got along well. … You're supposed to forgive and forget, and that goes both ways, so we both knew what we had to do."

Even so, it's impossible for tensions not to linger. Words can hurt long after injuries heal and the physical therapy sessions are complete.

Hamlin talked Friday about his emotions after similar short-track experiences in the past.

"There are still those awkward moments (between drivers)," Hamlin said. "You've still got to go to the drivers' meeting and be right next to them, still got to park right next to them. You don't really say anything to them. You don't kill them with kindness. You kill them with silence.

"If they speak (to you), what do you say? How can you express how upset you are with someone without punching them? I don't know how you do that."

Sprint Cup points

After three of 26 races. Sixteen drivers make the season-ending Chase for the Championship.

Driver PointsBack

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 133—

Brad Keselowski 132 1

Jimmie Johnson 117 16

Joey Logano 116 17

Jeff Gordon 115 18

Carl Edwards 105 28

Matt Kenseth 105 28

Denny Hamlin 101 32

Ryan Newman 97 36

Kyle Busch 95 38

Jamie McMurray 93 40

Greg Biffle 86 47

Today's race

Food City 500, 1 p.m., Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway TV/radio: Ch. 13; 102.5-FM

Sprint Cup rivals Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano at peace — for now 03/15/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 15, 2014 9:50pm]

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