'Almost NASCAR champion' Hamlin feuds with track owner in social media spat that turned personal

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Mike Caudill) (Mike Caudill, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – One of NASCAR's top track owners deleted social media posts made earlier Friday morning in a back-and-forth spat with top driver Denny Hamlin that began when Hamlin criticized the repaving of Sonoma Raceway in California.

Marcus Smith, chairman of the Speedway Motorsports conglomerate that owns 10 of the tracks on NASCAR's Cup Series schedule, took exception to Hamlin's post that pointed out a Thursday sports car test was canceled because of problems with the new surface on the California road course.

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“When paving on a budget goes wrong,” Hamlin posted on X, formerly Twitter, right before midnight Thursday.

He then suggested that North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, which was revitalized by Speedway Motorsports and now hosts NASCAR's All-Star race, will face similar problems during next month's event.

Smith fired back quickly with his own response to begin an exchange that dragged into the early Friday hours.

“This is a great post from somebody who doesn’t know all the information. Ignorance on display for the world to see," Smith wrote in a now deleted post.

That only escalated the back-and-forth between Smith and Hamlin, winner of 53 Cup career races for Joe Gibbs Racing and co-owner of 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan. Hamlin won last week's race at his home track in Richmond, Virginia, and will try to make it two straight Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

“We’ve seen your reconfig record,” wrote Hamlin in a perceived knock at the reconfiguration of Texas Motor Speedway.

Smith then elevated the feud by taking a shot at Hamlin's inability to win a Cup championship — the only thing missing on Hamlin's resume.

“Yes we take risks, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t," Smith wrote. "We’ve seen your attempt of the championship as well. When you have a chance, maybe you could give me some golf tips.”

“Here’s your tip. Let someone else run your business before you blow everything your dad gave you," Hamlin responded.

Speedway Motorsports was founded and built by the late Bruton Smith, and Marcus Smith is his son.

Smith told Hamlin that if his father had a “Twitter/X account, I don't think his comment would be family friendly.”

“So listen here, almost NASCAR Champion,” Smith continued, “you keep working at it and one day you're going to get a big trophy! Thanks for the tip!”

Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 three times, but Smith suggested “negative comments would carry a lot more weight if you had a championship to back them up.”

Hamlin, under fire all week for jumping the final restart on Sunday to win Richmond, returned to social media Friday jokingly asking for some news to divert attention away from the Toyota driver. Smith then wrote that he had deleted his posts.

“Following up on my previous posts, I take a lot of pride in the dedication and hard work our teammates put forth to make NASCAR the very best it can be and I shouldn’t let social media conversations get personal, so I deleted those posts,” he wrote.

Smith called Hamlin “a passionate driver and team owner and I’m truly looking forward to seeing him drive for a championship this year. Our team is working hard to fix some pavement issues (at Sonoma) and we will get it right. Let’s keep the positive momentum going in 2024!”

Hamlin also expressed contrition.

“I’ll definitely take responsibility for my part in it. It got more personal than it should have for sure,” he wrote.

Speedway Motorsports owns Sonoma, Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, Texas, Bristol, Atlanta, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Dover and Nashville, and leases Circuit of the Americas for the NASCAR race held there. Speedway Motorsports has a slew of races coming up in May and June, including Sonoma. Three Cup drivers tested Sonoma last month with no pavement issues.

Although cooler heads had prevailed Friday, the bickering is indicative of the divide right now between NASCAR and its track operators against teams and drivers in finding a new revenue model. Teams want a larger piece of NASCAR revenue, which primarily comes from its media-rights agreements.

The tracks currently receive 65% of media-rights revenue and the teams get 25% through each race's purse. Drivers get a percentage of the purse money paid to the teams and NASCAR keeps 10%.

Teams have argued that the tracks are receiving too much from the coffers and the distribution needs to be more evenly split. Negotiations between NASCAR and the teams are currently at a stalemate and in February the teams voted to hire a top sports labor attorney for consultation.

Hamlin is one of the most outspoken owners on the topic.


AP NASCAR: https://apnews.com/hub/nascar-racing

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