Briscoe, Hamlin will get chance to settle debate at Michigan

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Denny Hamlin talks with a crew member during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Chase Briscoe and Denny Hamlin spent the week trading barbs about their chaotic finish at Indianapolis.

They’ll have a chance to settle the score Sunday at Michigan.

During a week many teams scrambled to repair damaged cars while plotting strategy for NASCAR’s return to oval racing, Briscoe and Hamlin continued their debate over the spinout that cost both championship contenders a possible trip to victory lane.

“We can’t race that way,” Hamlin said after Briscoe sent Indy’s race leader spinning on the second-to-last lap. “I don’t think he did it (maliciously). I’ve raced with him for a year now. He’s not that kind of person, just bad judgment.”

What exactly took place in those closing laps won’t soon be forgotten.

A deteriorating curb sent nine cars off course with five laps to go and seven more crashed shortly after a restart following the curb’s removal. Then in the second overtime and final restart, Hamlin forced Briscoe wide heading into the first turn, and as Hamlin navigated the course, Briscoe drove through the grass and came out side by side with Hamlin. When Hamlin pulled out to a small lead, Briscoe tapped the No. 11 Toyota, sending it into the grass — at about the same time Cup officials radioed Briscoe’s penalty for cutting the course.

Afterward, Hamlin confronted Briscoe on pit road. But when Briscoe’s radio transmissions were broadcast on television Monday, the debate started again.

“Soooo the 14 didn’t know but yet acknowledged it on the radio? Ok, gotcha, noted,” Hamlin wrote on Twitter.

Briscoe defended himself again.

“That was my crew chief’s voice, anyone that listens to us weekly knows that’s not my voice plus I never use the word ‘copy’ I always say 10-4,” he wrote. “Feel free to call or text me if you don’t wanna go back and forth on here.”

Neither driver took questions this week and it was unclear if the conversation continued in private.

Now both are in the Irish Hills region of Michigan trying to build momentum for the Cup chase. Hamlin has already clinched a playoff spot despite not winning yet this season. Hamlin reached victory lane 13 times in 2019 and 2020 but hasn’t been back since winning at Talladega in October.

The 29-race drought and the fact Hamlin failed to win the Brickyard again despite being in position to win it late in the race accounts for some of the frustration.

A win Sunday certainly would help Hamlin, who finds himself second in points behind Kyle Larson after leading most of this season.

Briscoe would qualify for the playoffs with a win.

HARVICK’S TRACK

NASCAR’s stop in Michigan has been a one-man show recently.

Kevin Harvick has won four of the last five here, including each of the last three races held on the 2-mile oval.

If Harvick makes it four in a row, he would lock up a playoff spot — and tie Bill Elliott’s record for most consecutive race victories at Michigan. Harvick, who won the 2014 Cup title, also owns the most wins (five) among active drivers on the track and, like Hamlin, is still seeking his first win in 2021.

He’s 15th in the points heading into this week and could also clinch a playoff spot Sunday based on points — if there’s a repeat winner or a winner who is ineligible for the postseason.

PLAYOFF PICTURE

Fourteen drivers already have clinched playoff spots and two spots remain as the regular season winds down with its final two races.

Sixteen drivers, including Harvick, are in with a win. Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace are also on that list.

And there will be a change. Race organizers are using resin on the track to help with grip instead of PJ1 TrackBite.

“I think we’ve got a shot,” said Ross Chastain, another playoff hopeful. “They don’t want to make it too slick or too gripped-up. They’re just trying to find a happy medium. And if they get it in the box where we can race in it, then we’ll have a lot more options for racing.”

Harvick is the only driver who can qualify based on points, and Larson can clinch the regular-season Cup crown — if he expands his points lead to 61 this weekend. Larson moved into the No. 1 spot last week by finishing ahead of Hamlin and now has a 22-point edge.

ODDS AND ENDS

Larson is Sunday’s betting favorite at 13-5, just ahead of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. according to Fan Duel. … Spire Motorsports announced Thursday that Corey LaJoie will miss this week’s race because of COVID-19 protocols. He will be replaced in the No. 7 Chevrolet by Josh Berry. Berry drove in Friday’s truck race and Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. … Sunday marks the first oval race for Cup drivers since July 18 at New Hampshire. … Ford has won the last six races at Michigan.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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