As soon as Denny Hamlin walked out of the Dover media center on Friday, he knew.
He knew he'd done it again – opened his mouth just a little too wide, said a little too much.
"Son of a...!" Hamlin said, recalling how he feels after realizing his mistake. "You know what I mean? It's just immediately like, ‘God dang it!' There was such an easier way to say your piece."
This time, the comments were about Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing – words that led to an on-track incident and garage confrontation with Kevin Harvick.
Though it didn't affect Hamlin's Dover finish, his team had to spend 30 minutes of valuable practice time fixing the car after the run-in with Harvick.
"I wonder how I get myself in these positions sometimes," Hamlin said Tuesday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's my personality. I've been in this (saying too much) crap for years now. I do this all the time!"
As soon as his media availability on Friday was over, Hamlin said he knew there would be repercussions – whether on the track or in the form of a phone call from Richard Childress himself.
By then, though, it was too late to change anything.
"But what are you gonna do?" he said. "There's nothing I could do at that point other than just deal with whatever."
It's all a part of a learning experience for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Virginian, who has always prided himself on being honest and speaking the truth but has learned lately that's not always the best policy.
Just this weekend, team owner Joe Gibbs sat down with Hamlin and told him that through the former coach's experience from his NFL coaching days, he learned sometimes it was better just to deflect questions rather than answer them directly.
"It's a tough balance – it is hard for me to not just say what's on my mind sometimes," Hamlin said. "But it's like, not everybody needs to hear it all the time. Joe kind of explained that to me: ‘Not everybody needs to hear what you have to say, even when you think things are going wrong.'"
That sounds like bad news for fans who enjoy Hamlin's candid nature and who complain there are too many vanilla drivers in NASCAR. If you've ever heard Hamlin speak for a few minutes, you know he's not one of them.
But Hamlin said he's come to realize that "not all of (the fans)" appreciate hearing him speak his mind.
"Listening to my own press conference even from this weekend, it's like, ‘Man, that was kind of harsh,'" he said. "Maybe I should have just kind of deflected. I watched Jimmie (Johnson's) press conference, and a lot of other guys before and after me, and they just kind of deflected. When (the Bowyer questions) came to them, they just kind of shielded themselves from it, said their piece and got it over with.
"I sat down and I was going to say, ‘Alright, no Bowyer questions.' But then someone said something like, ‘Hey, he said this about you (failing inspection),' and immediately I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute! What?' I sat up in my seat and got defensive."
Suddenly, Hamlin went from hoping to stay above the fray to diving in and fueling the fire – answering a jab with a punch. He became motivated to "stick up for my race team first, and then...throw (RCR) under the bus second."
"Really," he said, looking back, "I should have deflected it and let (Bowyer) say his piece."
With a few days having passed since his comments, Hamlin said part of him laughs at what happened and the other part kicks himself for it, adding, "It was too much trouble for what it was worth."
Fortunately, he said Harvick is willing to move on. Hamlin said the two drivers are actually quite friendly away from the track, with each helping the other's charity foundation (Hamlin recently played in Harvick's charity Pro-Am golf tournament).
"Our friendship goes further than (the Dover incident)," he said. "Regardless of teams mad, anyone mad, we do a lot for each other off the racetrack, and I feel like that goes a long way."
Hamlin and Harvick have already spoken by phone to clear the air, with the two drivers coming to a quick conclusion that they should be chasing four-time champion Johnson around the track instead of each other.
"I think that's the point we came to: If we keep messing around, we're going to let someone else win this thing," Hamlin said.
So though he injected himself into the controversy at Dover, Hamlin said it's all part of the learning experience for a driver who hopes to become a NASCAR champion soon.
"Everything I've screwed up over the last few years," he said, "whether it's wrecking in the Chase, worrying about where other guys are at, saying my piece – every single one of them is a learning experience that will make me better for later on. And I know that."