Denny Hamlin on Brad Keselowski: “It’s tough to win a championship if nobody likes you” (VIDEO)

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Denny Hamlin sits with Joey Logano atop the Chase Grid going into the Eliminator Round finale this Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Wanting to join him on the good side of the cutoff for advancement to the Sprint Cup Championship Race is Brad Keselowski, who finished third at Texas last weekend and also got into his second post-race scrap in four weeks with Jeff Gordon.

Hamlin was involved in the first one at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when he took umbrage with Keselowski’s hard racing over the final two laps of that race by brake-checking him on the cool-down lap. Hamlin eventually chased Keselowski through the garage, but it was Matt Kenseth who ultimately got to the Team Penske driver first.

Needless to say, Keselowski isn’t likely to be on many of his peers’ Christmas card lists. But he could be up for being paid back during Sunday’s race at Phoenix if the likes of Kenseth, Gordon, or Kevin Harvick (whose pushing Keselowski in the back helped ignite the Texas brawl) are having a bad day on the track.

In Hamlin’s eyes, Keselowski’s aggressive driving tactics are not the problem. The problem is he isn’t showing any sympathy after he uses them.

“He has a right to feel the way he feels, but when there’s no accountability…they’re gonna be upset with him,” Hamlin said during today’s NASCAR teleconference. “You just have to expect it. It’s tough to win a championship if nobody likes you. That is going to be a very tough task.

“I think he’s gonna have to watch the mirror, and that’s a tough way to race. I learned that the very hard way, but everyone’s on their own agenda. Brad’s got his agenda and he’s entitled to that.

“We’ve all gotta do the best we can but if we have a bad day, this is typically the point of the season where people get back at each other if they feel like they’ve been done wrong.”

Hamlin went on to say that while Keselowski doesn’t have to apologize for who he is, his lack of remorse regarding his contact with Gordon during the first green-white-checkered attempt at Texas (which caused Gordon to fall back before he spun with a tire failure and finishing 29th as a result) escalated the post-race situation.

“That just lights a fire in your insides, especially when you’ve had a bad day and your season could’ve rested on that one mistake or whatever you wanna call it,” he said. “If Brad would have talked to Jeff and said, ‘Man, I was going for a hole, it’s my only chance and I’m really sorry it cut your tire,’ I think that goes totally different. Instead, it was, ‘Meh, oh well, sorry, bud, you left the hole.'”

To Hamlin, it’s that lack of respect that has made Keselowski a lone wolf in the garage. Hamlin knows all too well what it’s like to be regarded as such.

In 2007, Hamlin had a heart-to-heart with Kyle Petty following an incident between the two at Dover that saw Hamlin put Petty in the wall.

While Hamlin sat inside his own damaged car in the garage, Petty pulled down his window net and swatted Hamlin’s helmet. And during their sit-down, Petty informed Hamlin of how scores of drivers had called him with praise for that gesture.

“Immediately, I was like, ‘Wait a minute – no other drivers like me?,'” Hamlin recalled. “You know, some people care about that and some people don’t. But immediately, I was like, ‘Well, that’s not something I want. I don’t want to be a driver that has zero respect from my peers. I want to be someone who other drivers look up to.'”

Right now, Hamlin doesn’t see Keselowski being that guy, even though he’s won a Sprint Cup title and races for one of the top teams in the sport.

“He’s got a lot of good things going for him. But in my opinion, and I want to stress my opinion…what I think is he’s just got to work on the respect factor from his peers,” he said.

Indy Lights: Kyle Kirkwood joins Andretti Autosport

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One of the Road to Indy’s most talented young drivers will climb another step up the development system ladder this season.

Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion, has signed a contract to race for Andretti Autosport in the 2020 Indy Lights season. Kirkwood will drive the No. 28 car for the reigning championship team.

A native of Jupiter, Florida, 21-year-old Kirkwood has been incredibly successful in junior formulas over the last few years. He won the F4 US Championship 2017 and won both the F3 Americas and USF2000 titles in 2018.

Driving for RP Motorsport Racing, Kirkwood won 9 of 16 races in his maiden Indy Pro 2000 season last year, allowing him to win his fourth championship in three years and earn the Road to Indy scholarship.

“We are very excited about the addition of Kyle to our Indy Lights program,” Andretti Autosport CEO and Chairman Michael Andretti said. “We’ve followed Kyle’s career from when he started in 2018 with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and have been impressed with his success in every race that led to his Indy Pro 2000 Championship last year. As a championship-caliber team, Kyle displays the desire and talent that we look for in our drivers and are excited to see him hit the track for the 2020 Indy Lights season.”

Kirkwood previously drove for Andretti in a two-day test session at Sebring International Raceway in December. He will make his official debut for the team in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg on March 14-15.

“I am ecstatic that I can now say I am competing in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport this season,” Kirkwood said. “They have established a winning program in Indy Lights and we plan on carrying that reputation throughout 2020.

“We are a fantastic match for each other and our Sebring test in December proved that.”

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