Does Denny Hamlin’s fine fit the crime, or cross respect line?By Ashley McCubbin
On Thursday afternoon, NASCAR announced that they had fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 for comments he made following the March 3 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. In his comments, he violated section 12-1 of the rulebook, which is “actions detrimental to stock car racing”.
“Following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon,” NASCAR stated in their statement. “While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”
Looking at the situation, NASCAR is trying to encourage drivers to voice their opinions and be themselves as it puts character to the forefront. So after a race that would entail a driver voicing what they thought of their racing, their competitors and the racing that took place on track.
After finishing the race, Hamlin got out of the car and well, did that – he voiced his opinion as he had been encouraged to.
“I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation-Five (Car of Tomorrow) cars,” he said. “This is more like what the Generation-Five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file, and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there. I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”
The race at Phoenix International Raceway had some passing, however possibly not as much as fans expected and therefore, as a result, we saw track position come into play. When you’re down a race, frustrated with how you finished, you’re going to automatically say why you’re frustrated.
Also, those comments by Hamlin aren’t the worst comments we’ve heard about NASCAR or their racecars. Hamlin was stating the fact that teams need to work on the cars due to not figuring out the aero balance. Isn’t it a known that with a new car it is going to be a work in progress just like the cars in the past? It is not like Hamlin is stating something that is brand new, right?
Hamlin would also go on to make some comments about the tire that they used in the race.
“A very, very hard tire from Goodyear – especially on the left side,” he said. “We’ve got to get that softer. Once we do that, you’ll have some tire wear and overtaking like there’s supposed to be.”
Once again, Hamlin was discussing changes that are needed to make the racing better. Negative comments you think may drive fans away after a poor race. However, comments such as those from Hamlin show that there can be improvements made. By hearing that, it encourages myself, atleast, that the racing will continue to get better.
When looking at the punishment, key points to consider there is Hamlin made “disparaging remarks” and NASCAR doesn’t tolerate drivers making comments that “denigrate” the racing product. In that respect, that means that you cannot state that the tires are crap, or there was no passing due aero aspects with regards to the car. Hamlin stated the fact they couldn’t pass and he didn’t agree with the tire, so he was fined.
So what was he supposed to say? “Oh our car was great and we had a great day, coming close to winning. I’d like to thank my crew for hard work and my sponsors for what they do for me and blah blah” Doesn’t that sound….hmm, cookie cutter? Doesn’t that sound against what NASCAR said in encouraging driver opinions?
In response to his fine, Hamlin has stated that he will not be paying the fine and he will be appealing the penalty. Does he have a shot at winning the appeal? Well, look above. Certainly there’s an argument for both sides of the coin.
Hamlin posted an extended tweet on twitter saying, “I believe I was severely disrespected by NASCAR by getting fined. I believe that the simple fact of us not even having a conversation about this issue before I was hit with a fine has something to say about our relationship.”
In the past, drivers have been talked to with regards to their comments. Brad Keselowski had a meeting with NASCAR’s top officials after some comments in an interview with USA Today.
Hamlin was fined in 2010 for a comment on twitter with regards to cautions for debris. In that respect, Hamlin added, “Since being fined in 2010 I have been a lot more careful about what I say to media and I felt this past weekend felt completely in my rights to give a assessment of the question asked. I feel as if today NASCAR lost one of its biggest supporters vocally of where our sport is headed.
“So in the end there are no winners. I said today I would not pay the fine. I stand by that and will go through the process of appealing. Trust me, this is not about the money.. It’s much deeper. I will now shift my focus on giving FedEx and my team what they deserve this weekend, a win.”
Respect, common ground on both sides of the coin – that’s what it’s all about for Hamlin. The fans should be demanding the same thing as if drivers are being limited to what they can say, then we’ll hear cookie cutter comments and not really know what they’re thinking about a race.