Joe Gibbs Racing Takes a Dirt(y) Shot From Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson was the dominant car in the Round of 8 Playoff race at Las Vegas. But to claim his fourth win of 2023, continue to disprove Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s predictions, and, most importantly, earn a spot in the Championship 4 race at Phoenix, he had to hold off a fast-charging Christopher Bell in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver talked with reporters after the race, and when responding to a question about his relationship with the JGR driver, with whom he’s raced on the dirt for years, he offered an answer flattering of the driver and much less so of the organization. The 2021 champion’s remarks alone were eye-popping — even more so because they came just days after Denny Hamlin’s critical comments of outspoken HMS exec Jeff Gordon.
Denny Hamlin defends Joe Gibbs Racing after Jeff Gordon remarks
Jeff Gordon started it all.
During an early October appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, the four-time Cup Series champion and HMS vice chairman said Denny Hamlin’s recent behavior of playing the villain was “a distraction” and “too controversial” and that he wouldn’t want that type of driver at HMS.
Unsurprisingly, the three-time Daytona 500 winner responded on his Actions Detrimental podcast and didn’t sugarcoat what was on his mind.
“What is a distraction? That I’m getting booed?” Hamlin questioned. “I go in Monday, and I’m a professional because that’s what professionals do. They go into a meeting, and they act professional. I think he’s been to one too many Burning Mans.
“He’s basically saying I want them to be tidy, not controversial. I couldn’t disagree more. I’m glad I drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. I’m glad I run my team the way I run my team because I will never run my team saying things like that. That’s his opinion. He’s allowed to have that opinion but certainly think that is the absolute wrong way to go if you want star power in this sport.”
Kyle Larson fires away at Joe Gibbs Racing while praising Christopher Bell
Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin are good friends, but their friendship has been tested multiple times this year, with the 42-year-old making aggressive moves late in races that cost the HMS car on several occasions.
On Sunday at Vegas, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell was in a similar position, riding on the rear bumper of the No. 5 car going into the final turn. That’s where the pair finished, as the No. 20 car opted not to get aggressive and didn’t make the pass.
The victorious driver met with the media after the race and was questioned both about giving a thumbs up to the JGR driver and the amount of respect he had for his fellow competitor. The 31-year-old HMS pilot responded thoughtfully, including taking a shot at the rival powerhouse organization.
“He’s always been a really fair, clean racer,” Larson said of Bell. “We’ve had numbers and numbers of battles in stock cars, but mostly in dirt track. I’m typically the one that is the aggressor or the aggressive one in our battles. Probably push the limit of being dirty sometimes.
“For him to continue to race me clean, I definitely have a ton of respect for him. Always have. In my opinion, he’s one of the best race car drivers in the world and could do everything that I get to do outside of NASCAR if his team would let him.”
JGR denied Christopher Bell opportunity to race on dirt
Larson is referring to Christopher Bell’s headline-making remarks about Joe Gibbs Racing back in January while appearing with sprint car driver David Gravel on a podcast.
“I love the Chili Bowl. It’s a very special place to me,” Bell said. “Definitely the largest event that I grew up going to as a kid, and it means the world to me that I’ve been able to win it. But Joe Gibbs has been extremely, extremely vocal about his — I don’t want to use the word hatred, but it’s pretty close to hatred — towards dirt-track racing. He does not love dirt-track racing or open-wheel racing at all.
“Me and Coy had a great relationship. Coy Gibbs, I would always funnel my dirt-track stuff through Coy, and Coy loved it. He thought it was really good for me to do, and he would kind of tell his dad that we talked about it, and he thought that it was fine for me to go do. So obviously, Coy passed away in November, and I kind of lost that connection, and Joe was very vocal about me not dirt-track racing. So, for the time being, I’m not going to be dirt-track racing.”
Interestingly, the only dirt racing this season for Bell came during the Cup Series race at Bristol. He won and showed his fellow NASCAR competitors what Larson has known for years about his dirt skills. Skills that won’t be put on display in the future unless there’s a dramatic shift in position at Joe Gibbs Racing.