Petty suggested on NASCAR RaceDay Sunday that Hamlin should end his 2013 season early to focus on healing his ailing lower back. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has dealt with chronic back pain throughout his career, and suffered a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a March 24 crash at Auto Club Speedway. He subsequently missed four races, and has struggled badly since his return, currently ranking 25th in the Sprint Cup Series championship standings.
“He can win the next four or five races,” said Petty, “but it's not going to change the championship this year. He needs to focus on next year, get his body back together and come back and have a shot at winning next year.
“He's started to talk a lot,” said Petty of Hamlin Sunday. “He's talked about being the face of Joe Gibbs Racing. I think he's got a little bit of 'BK (Brad Keselowski) Syndrome' in him right now. He's not relevant to the sport as far as the Chase, what's going on in the Chase and winning the championship.”
Hamlin responded angrily to those comments, tweeting “Kyle Petty is a moron” prior to Sunday’s race. He was also in no mood for reconciliation after crashing out of the GoBowling.com 400 en route to a 43rd-place finish, telling reporters, “He’s an analyst, but not a very informative one because he doesn't know anything. My beef with Kyle is he has a lot of opinions about a lot of drivers, but he never once talked to any of them. To be an analyst, you've got to be in the trenches to find out the stories.
“I got here on hard work and winning,” said Hamlin of Petty. “I didn't get here like he got here.''
Hamlin also denied calling himself the face of JGR, saying, “What I really said was I was the face of FedEx and the #11 team."
Hamlin and Petty have a sometimes rocky history, dating back to 2007, Petty’s final full season as a Cup Series driver. After an on-track incident in the fall race at Dover International Speedway, Petty confronted Hamlin on pit road while the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was still strapped into his race car, admonishing him verbally and slapping Hamlin’s helmet visor.
Racers never forget, even after they no longer drive race cars.
Yesterday’s dispute was the second between Petty and a NASCAR driver in the last few weeks. Petty said recently that rookie Danica Patrick “can go fast, but she can't race. She's come a long way, but she's still not a race car driver. I don't think she's ever going to be a race car driver (and) it’s too late to learn."
Patrick shrugged off those comments, saying, “There are plenty of people who say really bad things about me. I really don't care. People want me to die. You get over that stuff.”
Team owner Tony Stewart took issue with them, however, calling Petty’s comments, "way out of line and very inappropriate.''
An eight-time winner in NASCAR Cup Series competition, Kyle Petty is paid to express opinions and offer expertise. Intentionally or not, he has become of NASCAR’s resident contrarian; willing (and often intending) to upset the apple cart and push as many buttons as possible.
It is a role he clearly relishes.
Petty sometimes seems to court controversy, interjecting himself into stories rather than simply reporting on them. He is a frequent and outspoken critic of NASCAR, its drivers, crew chiefs and teams, and doesn’t mind calling people out – by name – when the opportunity presents itself. His approach keeps him in periodic hot water with the sanctioning body, its athletes and fans, but there’s one thing for sure about Kyle Petty.
He is certainly never dull.