- Brant James, Contributor, espnW.com
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The year has felt pretty much like a year. Nothing more, nothing less despite the theatrics and frustration, broken vertebra and recuperation crammed into it. The three hours in a van with Joey Logano barely registered.
But a year is apparently still not quite enough for Denny Hamlin to move past the lingering ill will he harbors toward his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Hamlin, who will start on the pole for the Food City 500 on Sunday -- or whenever the weather allows its commencement at Bristol Motor Speedway -- isn't rekindling the quarrel. He's not so much moving on as looking the other way.
"We're OK," Hamlin said of him and Logano. "We don't talk or anything like that more than we should and really no less than we should, I would say.
"You can hold grudges all you want, but it's not going to make you any faster and it's not going to get you any closer to a championship."
But at some point, maybe this week or in the ensuing 32 race weekends, the ambitious drivers and their ambitious race teams will find themselves having to deal with each other. And those quick-fire decisions often are influenced by the emotion of past incidents.
Hamlin began feuding with Logano via Twitter after the Daytona 500 last year, mock-apologizing to Team Penske's Brad Keselowski for not helping him because Logano, whom he referred to as Keselowski's "genius teammate", was "too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."
Logano responded, adding the pithy hashtag "#LoveYouMeanIt."
Three races later, Hamlin turned Logano from behind as Logano contested the lead with Jeff Gordon with 151 laps left at Bristol.
Logano fumed, then confronted Hamlin through the window of his car after the race, inciting a brief melee among crewmen. The pair was contesting the checkered flag on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway the next week when Logano drove up into Hamlin -- crashing his No. 22 Ford in the endeavor -- and sending Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota into the outer wall and viciously hard into a concrete barrier. Hamlin suffered an L1 compression fracture that cost him four races and the first missed Chase for the Sprint Cup of his career as a full-time driver.
Logano didn't realize Hamlin was injured when, in a television interview, he said Hamlin "probably shouldn't have done what he did last week [at Bristol], so that's what he gets."
Logano, who was confronted on pit road by an enraged Tony Stewart, recanted when he learned of the injury.
"We got done with the race and Tony and Joey were over there throwing stuff at each other," driver Carl Edwards said. "It's like, 'This is NASCAR.' "
Hamlin returned to ride out of the season as an ersatz test team for JGR but earned a heartening win in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I'm bitter in ways, and in other ways it's been so long ago and there's so many trials and tribulations between then and now that I think I'm a better person now afterwards, and I think I'm a better driver now than I was before," Hamlin said. "I think that it gives you perspective on things when you sit out a little bit and you don't want it to be because of physical reasons and things like that.
"As far as my relationship with [Logano], I treat him with respect on the racetrack, as I should."
The drivers were forced into close proximity for a Coca-Cola television shoot last spring, with Hamlin seated directly behind Logano in a minivan driven by Stewart and also packed with Danica Patrick, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle. A spoof outtake ad was released in an attempt to decompress the situation and suggest the dispute was resolved.
"I don't really force it too much," Hamlin said of such situations. "I mean, there's awkward moments. You're face-to-face with someone and you're having to talk during a commercial or what have you. You have those moments where you just as soon look away and you do."
Logano says he considers him and Hamlin "fine."
"A year is a long time," he said. "It's over now. I feel like we've moved on.
"Obviously, people were talking about it this week because it's the one-year anniversary of the whole fiasco, but you move on and forget about things."
Although the open Hamlin-Logano hostilities have cooled, or at least quieted, their teams' tussle for early-season momentum and trophies is growing more spirited.
JGR's Toyotas won four of the first eight races last season, but Team Penske's Fords have been oppressive through three races this time around, apparently mastering the new knockout qualifying. Keselowski was a winner last week at Las Vegas and is second in points, and Logano is fourth in the standings.
But there is peace with him and Hamlin, Logano said.
"You're supposed to forgive and forget, and that goes both ways," Logano said, "so we both knew what we had to do, and I feel like we've moved on and we're going from there."
But if their season arcs continue as they hope, at some point Hamlin and Logano will have designs on the same space. Those chances are increased in a .533-mile bullring such as Bristol, even with the metal-mashing era of the storied concrete track a nostalgic memory. Hamlin and Logano will start within sight of each other in the Food City 500, with Logano having qualified fourth.
Whatever happens, they're unlikely to talk through it. Even more than a year later.
"If they speak, what do you say?" Hamlin said. "How do you express how upset you are with someone without punching them? I don't know how to do that. So you just don't say anything."
2dK. Lee Davis