Harvick, Hamlin tangle on track, exchange heated words during practice at Dover

Kevin Harvick showed he had his teammate's back by damaging Denny Hamlin's rear.

After Harvick bumped Hamlin on the track, the top two points leaders were involved in a heated and profane exchange in the garage, sparking some life into the first practice Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

The dustup came a day after Hamlin blasted Clint Bowyer, saying Harvick's RCR teammate was making excuses for why his winning car at New Hampshire failed a follow-up inspection.

Harvick appeared to stick up for Bowyer not with words, but with force.

"It's a tight bunch," Harvick said of his teammates after the Nationwide race. "It's always been that way."

It didn't surprise Hamlin.

"I had a hint," Hamlin said.

Hamlin knew he'd be a target when he said Harvick's crew made sarcastic comments toward him before practice. Hamlin, who said he expected retaliation for his antagonistic criticism, said Harvick also got into the No. 11 Toyota on pit road.

Hamlin and Harvick made contact during the opening laps of practice, with Harvick damaging the right rear of Hamlin's No. 11 car. Once the drivers returned to the garage, they got into each other's faces before they were separated. Tempers quickly flared again and they went back to yelling at each other before they were broken up for good.

"Of course, it's unnecessary because it didn't help either one of the race teams," Hamlin said.

Hamlin is in first place and holds a 45-point lead over Harvick in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship points standings. Their stalls and haulers are next to each other in the garage, causing some uncomfortable moments for the crew.

Team owner Richard Childress seemed amused by the damage caused by the incident.

"I don't know if he backed into Kevin or not," he said with a smile.

Hamlin, runner-up in New Hampshire, ripped Bowyer's excuse for failing inspection and bluntly said on Friday he had "the fastest legal car." Hamlin also said there had long been rumors in the garage that Bowyer's team was pushing the legal limits of the car — something no other driver said they heard.

"I spoke my mind yesterday and I felt like I said a lot of truth, and a lot of times that's not popular with the teams that are involved," Hamlin said. "That's something I've always done is speak my mind. It's not always in my best interests to do that."

Harvick wasted little time delivering payback. His No. 29 Chevrolet had minor damage. Hamlin's right rear panel was patched together with tape and sheet metal and spent nearly 30 minutes in the garage during practice.

Asked about Hamlin, Childress said on Saturday he's learned not to get into an argument "with a skunk. And you don't throw stones if you live in a glass house."

Harvick had little to say after he finished fifth in the Nationwide race.

Asked if he was upset with Hamlin for his comments, Harvick said, "I don't know." He replied "I don't know" to another question about his actions and refused to address it further.

Hamlin, who was fined earlier this season for critical comments about the sport he made on Twitter, refused to back down.

"Our integrity speaks for itself," he said. "I think everyone at our team knows that we're trying to do things the right way. So be it. Whatever they want to do."

Hamlin starts fourth and Harvick is 33rd in Sunday's race.

"Our job is still to win a championship and we look pretty good on speed, especially compared to those guys," Hamlin said.