Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Praises Denny Hamlin For Embracing His Role As The Villain In NASCAR

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson & Denny Hamlin
Adam Glanzman/Chris Graythen via Getty Images

Every story needs a good villain, right?

NASCAR has had plenty of villains over the years – drivers that fans love to hate, or just plain hate.

Guys like Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch…all served as the heel in the NASCAR Cup Series at some point in their career.

And right now, it seems like Denny Hamlin has emerged to take on that role – and it’s one that he’s happy to fill.

The driver of the #11 car for Joe Gibbs racing and co-owner of 23XI racing alongside Michael Jordan is one of the most polarizing figures in the sport. Denny is aggressive both on the track and off, and he’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers – like when he taunted fans who were booing him after a race at Bristol in the fall.

And during the new Netflix series NASCAR: Full Speed, Hamlin spoke about his persona as NASCAR’s bad guy:

“I don’t think that I show that much humility on the outside. I recognize it on the inside, but I think people see me as very cocky and brash.

That’s fine. That’s my persona. I don’t want my competition thinking, ‘Aw what a gee-shucks nice guy.’ F*ck that.”

Of course that persona rubs some in the sport the wrong way. Last season, Hendrick Motorsports VP and 4-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon criticized Hamlin as being “too controversial” and a “distraction” to his team.

“I wouldn’t want that to be one of our drivers.

It’s too controversial. To me it’s a distraction. I feel like, I want our drivers to go and build a fanbase by winning races and by being themselves.

And I think Denny’s being himself to a certain degree, but I think he’s also kind of, it’s like an alter-ego as well.”

But even the criticism from Gordon didn’t bother Hamlin, who responded that nobody else in the sport has the balls to show the personality that he does:

“It drives me crazy that no one else has got the balls to be.

And it’s not the drivers’ fault, because they’ve clearly got white collars standing over the back of them making sure they don’t do it. And that’s not good. That is stunting growth. That is stunting star power.

And I believe we have stars in our sport, but they will never get seen because we’ve got that mentality looking over their shoulders.”

And while Jeff Gordon may not like it, Hamlin got the endorsement of another world-famous athlete: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

The Rock is serving as the Grand Marshal for the (rain delayed) Daytona 500 this weekend, and has often served as the heel in professional wrestling. So ahead of the race, he spoke on Hamlin’s role as the “heel” in NASCAR – and gave him some advice:

“Being the villain is the greatest thing in the world. It truly is in my world of professional wrestling. I was aware of Denny and getting booed and I’m also impressed with how he has embraced it…

One of the cool things that being a great bad guy and a great villain offers – and this is my advice to Denny – not only do you embrace it but also you get the opportunity to say and do a lot of things that people can’t. A lot of people wish they can but they don’t, so you don’t have to. Let me and Denny do the talking and get the boos.”

And while a lot of people (clearly) aren’t fans of Denny on or off the track, it’s hard to argue that having a villain like that in the sport is great for NASCAR.

The worst thing that could happen to NASCAR is for fans to stop caring. But as long as there are drivers that fans love and drivers that they hate, fans will continue to tune in and be passionate about the sport.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to be the heel – and Denny seems perfectly happy taking on that role.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock