Denny Hamlin's 2013 campaign is turning into one he will want to forget.
It began when he fractured his back in a savage last-lap crash in March while battling for the lead at Auto Club Speedway. The injury caused Hamlin to miss four races and put him in a precarious points position, endangering his streak of qualifying for the Chase that stretched back to his 2006 rookie season.
While it appeared upon his full-time return Hamlin might make an improbable bid to get into the Chase with finishes of second and fourth, reality soon struck.
Since his fourth-place effort at Charlotte, Hamlin's best result is an eighth at Pocono Raceway in June and worse, his season has evolved into a series of jarring accidents.
At Dover, Kentucky and Daytona, the driver of the No. 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing was involved in incidents that left one wondering whether Hamlin had reinjured a back which will likely need surgery in the offseason. And with any chance he had of making the Chase now faint, there have been calls for Hamlin to step out of the car and allow his body to fully recover.
One of those who have voiced this sentiment is Kyle Petty, an analyst for the SPEED program "RaceDay," who during a segment that aired Sunday morning was adamant Hamlin sit out the rest of the year.
"I think Denny's a good race car driver -- really solid race car driver -- and he's been banged up numerous times this year. We go to California. We can go to a lot of race tracks -- Dover -- that hit he took up there. Honest to gosh, though, he didn't have a shot at making the Chase, though. I'm sorry. He just didn't. He was so far out.
You can't compete with teams like Jimmie Johnson and those guys and sit out five or six weeks. I think since that time now, he's started to talk a lot. He's talked about being the face of Joe Gibbs Racing. I think he's got a little bit of the ‘BK (Brad Keselowski) syndrome' in him right now. He's not relevant to the sport right now as far as the Chase and what's going on in the Chase and winning the championship. He can win the next four or five races, but it's not going to change the championship this year, and it's not going to change the Chase.
It is what it is and he needs to focus on next year, get his body back together and come back and have a shot at winning next year."
Hamlin took umbrage with Petty's remarks. First by tweeting "Kyle Petty is a moron" and then expounding upon his tweet after dropping out of the GoBowling.com 400.
"My frustration is Kyle has never shown his face in the garage in 10 years," Hamlin told Sporting News. "He's an analyst but he's not a very informative one because he doesn't know anything. My beef with Kyle is that he has a lot of opinions about a lot of drivers but he has never once talked to any of them. To be an analyst, you've got to be in the trenches finding out the stories."
The fact that Petty, a former NASCAR driver who won eight Cup races in a career that spanned from 1979 to 2008, is the son of seven-time champion Richard Petty was not lost on Hamlin.
"It was just (his) saying I as the face of JGR," Hamlin told Sporting News. "And what I really said was that I was the face of FedEx racing and the No. 11 team. I think I've earned that right. I've won enough races and I got here on hard work and winning. I didn't get here like he got here."
Fighting a loose car, Hamlin hit the Turn 3 wall on Lap 15 Sunday and explained afterward his team has been experimenting with setups. He finished 43rd, his seventh consecutive result where he's placed 18th or worse.
"Me and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) just got to get our setups where it's drivable again," Hamlin said. "Lately it's just not been good. It's been a handful. We've been qualifying okay, but as soon as we get in traffic and the race starts we go dead backwards and loose.
"Just very frustrating season. A lot of it is us -- we're working some different things. We're kind of outside of our normal box of setups and so we're trying to get better for next year, but obviously we need some track time to do that."