The Twitter hash tag, #StandWithDenny was at one point trending nationwide yesterday and is being used by fans and drivers in support of Denny Hamlin. Credit: @scharmgraphics

Denny Hamlin: The Man that Dared to Take on NASCAR

The latest controversy to take NASCAR Nation by storm is the fine issued to JGR driver, Denny Hamlin for what NASCAR officials called “disparaging  remarks” he made after his 3rd place finish at PIR last weekend. What exactly did he say that warranted a $25,000 fine? In a post-race interview, he said that it was hard to pass and that we still have a lot of work to do with these cars but he then went on to say this a few minutes later…

Mar. 2, 2013; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during practice for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars, this is more like what the Generation 5 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 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. In the media center - I hate to be Denny-downer, but I just didn’t pass that many cars today. That’s the realistic fact of it.” 

This isn’t the first time officials have handed out a fine to the 2010 NSCS runner-up…he was secretly fined 50K for remarks about NASCAR’s debris cautions a couple years ago. To me, he didn’t say anything wrong and I have heard other drivers say far worse in the past and go unpunished. He was just answering a question to the best of his ability and you can see there was no malicious intent to slam NASCAR or the car in his words. In reality, he’s getting penalized for being honest. I think the reason why they jumped on Hamlin so quickly is because they are very touchy when it comes to the Gen-6. They don’t want anything that could be taken as a negative statement towards it put out there by their drivers but if we are going to fine them for saying it was hard to pass, they better go slap 25K fines on about 30 drivers from Daytona. By trying to keep him quiet, NASCAR has brought so much publicity onto what he said that in the end, they are hurting themselves even more so by fining him. On top of that, other drivers and practically every fan is sticking up for Hamlin.

That being said, I think it was a very bad idea for Denny to go and refuse to pay it. I realize that he is trying to make a statement by doing this and it’s not about the money but in the end, he is only hurting himself and his team. Even if he wins the appeal, he is still the loser in this situation. Right or wrong, it’s never a good idea to “bite the hand that feeds you.” Taking on NASCAR has never gone well for racers in the past and if you don’t believe me, just look at Curtis Turner, Tim Richmond and Jeremy Mayfield. Besides the fact that this is going to take focus away from his racing and add some very unneeded drama in his life, he is now on NASCAR’s bad side which is never a good thing. I can assure you that next time there is an iffy restart involving Hamlin, or the next time he might or might not of passed someone below the yellow line at Talladega/Daytona, they will not hesitate to drop the hammer on him.

Another thing, where the heck is Joe Gibbs and FedEx at while their driver is out there saying “if they suspend me, they suspend me. I don’t care at this point.” Really? You are willing to throw your whole year away over this little fiasco? No matter how you feel about what happened, that’s not smart of him at all. He was very open about how angry this situation has made him and he shows no signs of backing down. I think Brad Keselowski made a very good point when he said “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 stake holders. 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.” 

Hamlin said how hard it was to pass which isn’t worthy of a fine but I saw Phoenix as a major improvement from the 500. At Daytona, it was impossible to pass but I there was some good racing at PIR. I mean, Denny himself made a 3-wide pass for 2nd place on the last lap. Last November’s Phoenix race had 1,658 green flag passes in 281 green flag laps compared to last Sunday’s event which had 1,213 passes in 273 green flag laps. The passing was down from last year but it is Phoenix…a track where the banking is at most 12 degrees. Let’s hold off commenting on how this car passes until after we go to big 1.5 miler like Vegas. The picture will be much clearer after this race although the conclusion to this NASCAR vs. Hamlin mess is nowhere in sight.

At 8pm est. Thursday, Denny tweeted this regarding the issue with NASCAR:

“The short of the long of it is 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. What I said was 1 sentence taken completely out of context. Most drivers will tell you that we constantly have our AND nascars best interest in mind when speaking. On the other hand I am a person that worked very hard from the BOTTOM to get where I am today and someone telling me that I can give my 100 percent honest opinion really bothers me. 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.” 

That statement was re-tweeted over 1,300 times and that number continues to rise! In my opinion, NASCAR and Denny are both handling this completely wrong. There should have been no fine in the first place and Hamlin shouldn’t of refused to pay it. Believe me, I’m all for #StandWithDenny but this whole mess could of been prevented had cooler heads prevailed. If NASCAR pulled Denny to the side after his comments and simply told him to refrain from that kind of talk in the future, this would of been avoided. Obviously, this is easy for me to say with the benefit of hindsight but it’s true.

The damage has been done now and we are all along for the ride so if Hamlin does plan to hold his ground against the guys that could potentially ruin his career in a heartbeat if they chose to, then more power to him because there aren’t many men out there that would. It’s going to be a little while though before we truly see what the consequences are for Hamlin especially if he refuses to pay even after the appeal in case he loses. NASCAR may just take the money out of his race winnings or they may even go down the route of suspension to remind him who’s in charge. The fate of Hamlin has yet to be determined but no matter what the outcome is, he will always be remembered as the man who dared to take on NASCAR.

Tags: Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Penalty Sprint Cup Series

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