NASCAR Sprint Cup: Denny Hamlin lashes out at rumors at Martinsville Speedway

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMarch 28, 2014 

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(L-R) Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, talks with Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

MATT SULLIVAN — Getty Images

— When it comes to his record at Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin could let his performance do his talking for him.

He does, after all, own four Sprint Cup Series wins at the half-mile track and has 13 top-10 finishes in 16 career starts.

But on Friday, he chose to speak up, lashing out at “rumors” from those in the “NASCAR community” who he said raised questions about him missing last Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana, Calif., because of what he said was an eye injury.

“My health is my business, but what if it was cancer or a tumor – I don’t have to tell anyone that. It’s my business,” said Hamlin, who was fastest in Friday’s practice session before qualifying second fastest for Sunday’s STP 500.

“People who think negatively of me or think that we sidestepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous,” he said. “I’m in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR; I would have to be an absolute moron – moron – to risk that.”

It was unclear to whom Hamlin was referring. His response was to a question about whether he had heard what Dale Earnhardt Jr. had said earlier this week, when Earnhardt said an absence of comment from Hamlin about his eye injury “left Denny vulnerable.”

Friday was the first comments from Hamlin on the issue. Joe Gibbs Racing officials on Wednesday issued a statement that said Hamlin was cleared to race this weekend in Martinsville after having a small piece of metal removed from his left eye.

Last Sunday, team officials said it was believed a sinus infection was the cause of Hamlin’s vision problems, which sent him to a hospital in California.

“For people to question who I am inside and outside the race car, I’ve never done anything to even put that in question,” Hamlin said. “I go to (Charlotte) Bobcats games, I got out and hang out with friends out in public.

“I don’t stay tucked in my motorhome, I don’t stay tucked into my house – it’s not what I like to do. Because I’m out there a little bit more people think I go out and I party.

“I got a wakeup call because I don’t drink at all hardly, ever. I’ve never done drugs, ever. I’m as clean as they come. I don’t know why people question who I am outside the race track. I worked too hard to get here for one to throw it all away.”

Hamlin, 33, said he first noticed a problem with his eye last Friday but didn’t seek treatment from the track’s infield care center until Saturday evening. Doctors then couldn’t find a visible cause for his discomfort, Hamlin said.

With the condition worse Sunday morning, track medical personnel advised Hamlin to go to a local hospital for more comprehensive tests. He was released from the hospital that night to return to North Carolina.

There was no mention about Hamlin’s condition – including the metal found in his eye – until JGR’s statement on Wednesday. Hamlin was seen Wednesday night at a Bobcats game in Charlotte, sitting in his usual front-row seat.

“I’m done justifying and defending myself on those things – I’m not going to let those people drag me down,” he said. “It’s just frustrating.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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