The $25,000 fine NASCAR levied on Denny Hamlin for criticizing the Gen-6 race car was a hot topic among fans and drivers this weekend as the tour rolled into Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hamlin responded angrily to the fine, saying he wouldn’t pay it and inviting NASCAR to suspend him. The penalty has been appealed.
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Fans have flooded racing websites with commentary this week, the vast majority chiming in with support for Hamlin.
The situation was perhaps best defined by defending series champion Brad Keselowski, who called it “a divisive topic, for sure, and one that I think every driver is a little reluctant to spend a lot of time talking about because there is no winner. There is no winner.
“I don’t think that conversation is the conversation that this sport needs to be having right now. The conversation we need to have right now is what we can do to provide the best on-track racing for fans and our stakeholders. When we are talking about things like that, we are not talking about the real discussions and how we are going to accomplish those other things.”
NASCAR has issued warnings about driver comments in the past and stressed this week that, while it gives drivers what it considers wide latitude in relation to public remarks, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
“I think we’re all watching and learning as things unfold, and we do know that NASCAR is sensitive to some things and that line is becoming more defined right now as to where that is and what type of criticism is allowed and what is not,” said Jimmie Johnson.
“I think we’re all learning and we’ve all been encouraged to have an opinion and speak our minds about each other as drivers and on certain topics. The old phrase ‘actions detrimental to stock car racing’ – that’s something that I am going to try to keep top of mind, and, as my opinions come about, if it’s something that’s going to hurt our sport, and I think about it and it enters my mind then I probably need to keep my mouth shut and head over to the truck and talk it out in there rather than through microphones.”
Jeff Gordon said criticism is a good thing but that, in the end, NASCAR holds the ace.
“Listen, I think it’s been an interesting story for somebody to challenge that authority,” he said. “That is fine, but, at the end of the day, I know whose sandbox I’m playing in. I like the sandbox. I like to play in it and I want to have the best opportunity to have the most fun in that sandbox.
“Sometimes, while you don’t always like it, you have to bite your tongue and just go out there and race. I have been there before where I have wanted to challenge that and say those things. If he (Hamlin) chooses to do that, that is his prerogative. I think in his mind he is just being honest with himself and didn’t see anything wrong with it.”
Gordon said the fine has added to the attention load surrounding Hamlin’s original comments.
“Maybe it’s just me, but certainly this thing has blown up after yesterday (the fine announcement) and has drawn a lot more attention to it than I think had there not been a fine,” Gordon said. “I don’t know if that really justified a fine, in my opinion. I don’t think it was right, the things that Denny said and how he went about it. It probably needed to be handled in some [other] way. I just feel like I wouldn’t be getting asked these questions had they (NASCAR) went and just talked to him about it.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.