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Oh #$%! Phone call catches Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson off guard

Dustin Long, Kyle Petty, and Steve Letarte each select three NASCAR Cup Series drivers to watch at Talladega Superspeedway.

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin saw NASCAR Chairman Jim France’s name pop up on his phone this week and thought “Oh s—-, here we go again.”

It had only been about a month since NASCAR penalized Hamlin 25 points and $50,000 for comments he made on his podcast about wrecking Ross Chastain at Phoenix. And in that time, team owners, including Hamlin, skipped a quarterly meeting with NASCAR officials because of an impasse between the two sides on charters.

But no, Hamlin wasn’t in trouble this time. Instead, France called to inform Hamlin he had been selected to the list of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.

“It was a good call,” Hamlin said Saturday after winning the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. “He said this is a very high honor and I acknowledged it. … Hopefully, there’s one more big one we can go.”

Hamlin, who is tied with Herb Thomas for 16th on the all-time Cup wins list with 48, seeks his first Cup title.

Kyle Larson had a similar reaction as Hamlin when NASCAR Senior Advisor Mike Helton’s name came up on his phone last week. Larson was in the middle of a bike ride and finished it before calling Helton back.

“I’m like nervous,” Larson said, “because I’m like, ‘Man, Bristol just happened, am I trouble or something?”

Larson was anxious since he and Ryan Preece had contact in the Bristol Dirt Race, although officials didn’t penalize either driver.

“It’s Thursday, are you guys going to suspend me this late in the week?” Larson said he thought.

No, it was Helton telling Larson he also had been selected to NASCAR’s list of 75 Greatest Drivers.

“i was honestly just like speechless because I didn’t really at the time think that I was deserving to be on that list,” Larson said. “You think about 75 years. There had to have been more than 75 drivers better than me to this point. So I didn’t really feel like I deserved to be on it.”

But the stats show that Larson is worthy of inclusion on to the list. He won the 2021 Cup title, scoring 10 wins that season. His 21 Cup victories rank 38th on the all-time list, tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Labonte and Benny Parsons, along with Jeff Burton and Jack Smith.