NASCAR: Denny Hamlin might have just dug himself into a hole

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin admitted to intentionally ruining Ross Chastain’s race at Phoenix Raceway, and NASCAR is now discussing those comments.

Thanks to late contact from Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at Phoenix Raceway, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain saw his stay at the top of the NASCAR Cup Series point standings come to an end after just two races.

Hamlin and Chastain were both running in the top 10 after an overtime restart on Sunday, but Hamlin got into the side of Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet and sent him into the wall. Hamlin, who was bound to lose spots anyway on old tires, finished in 23rd place, with Chastain behind him in 24th.

Chastain, who had never been the Cup Series points leader until two weeks ago, now sits in third place in the standings, just six points behind new leader Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports.

Hamlin and Chastain have a history, having come together on multiple occasions during the 2022 season. Hamlin has stated several times that some of the younger drivers need to “learn a lesson”, and he admitted earlier this week that his contact with Chastain was intentional.

He stated that because he knew he was going to lose spots anyway, he decided to take Chastain with him and felt that it was an opportune time to get his point across, since no “innocent bystanders” would be collected.

Many fans respect the transparency. But NASCAR, which reserves the right to penalize a driver for “intentionally spinning or wrecking” another vehicle, has reportedly been made aware of Hamlin’s comments and will be discussing a potential course of action.

If Denny Hamlin gets penalized, it will be more proof that it’s not the action that gets penalized by NASCAR. It’s the admission of intent.

We saw this in the round of 8 race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2019. Bubba Wallace, who was not a playoff driver, spun out to cause a caution because he had a tire going down, thereby manipulating the outcome of a race, which is also a part of this rule. He wasn’t penalized for the action; he was penalized for admitting he did it intentionally several days later.

For the same reason, Kyle Busch refused to answer a question about his clear intentional spin at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a 2021 Truck Series race. He wasn’t penalized. Chase Elliott also never discussed his late spin at Auto Club Speedway in 2022. He wasn’t penalized.

Interestingly, Denny Hamlin was involved in a similar act of retaliation last year, though he was on the receiving end. And this one had multiple layers to it.

William Byron spun him out at Texas Motor Speedway during a caution flag period. Somehow (and we’re still not sure how this happened), NASCAR totally missed it, and Byron wasn’t penalized.

But when Byron admitted that he had tried to get back at Hamlin for an earlier incident (even though he did not actually mean to spin him out), NASCAR penalized him after the race.

Hendrick Motorsports ultimately won their appeal of the penalty, simply because had proper officiating taken place, the penalty Byron would have been given wouldn’t have been nearly as detrimental as the one he was given afterward.

In a roundabout way, Hendrick Motorsports’ successful appeal cost Kyle Larson a shot at the Championship 4. Byron wouldn’t have advanced to the round of 8 if not for the appeal; it would have been Larson. Instead, Larson had already been eliminated when he won the round of 8 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so he did not advance to the Championship 4.

So while it may not seem like a huge deal now, since we are just four races into the 2023 season and a driver losing points and dropping several spots in the standings is naturally going to look bigger than it really is (like Chastain losing the points lead), any decision on the latest episode of Hamlin vs. Chastain could have huge ramifications down the road.

dark. Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list

The lone recent exception in terms of NASCAR actually coming down hard on a driver’s action — not admission — is Wallace at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year.

Despite the fact that he did not admit that he had intentionally wrecked Larson and he had even lashed out a reporter with “fishing” accusations, the overwhelmingly dangerous nature of the move and the obvious intent behind it led NASCAR to suspend him for a race, marking the first suspension for an on-track incident in seven years.