Denny Hamlin proves NASCAR dug themselves a hole

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin appeared to intentionally spin out another competitor during Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway.

Early in Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was penalized for speeding in the pits and sent to the tail end of the field for the ensuing restart.

A few laps into the stint, the Fox broadcast booth was showing the on-board camera inside Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota when he made blatant contact with the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford of J.J. Yeley, sending Yeley spinning in turn one of the four-turn, 0.75-mile (1.207-kilometer) Richmond, Virginia oval and bringing out another caution flag.

Everybody saw it, and even the announcers stated, without doubt, that it was intentional, with Clint Bowyer saying it was “very much on purpose”, despite questioning why Hamlin would pull such a move on a driver with whom he really wouldn’t be battling in the long run.

Many, including Yeley, have described the move as hypocritical, considering how much Hamlin always likes to talk about racing others with respect and how he has slammed some of his fellow drivers for not doing the same.

And doing it to Yeley, who is driving for an underfunded team in Rick Ware Racing, for seemingly no reason also did not sit well. Some question if he is merely saying all the right things just to say all the right things.

But Yeley simply may have been collateral damage in a situation that Denny Hamlin can use, if he so chooses, to expose NASCAR after a recent ruling.

A few weeks ago at Phoenix Raceway, Hamlin drove Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain into the wall in overtime, costing him the lead of the point standings (to this day). Hamlin later admitted on his Actions Detrimental podcast that he did it intentionally.

He stated that he felt it was an opportune moment to get back at Chastain for some of the run-ins the two have had since the start of last year, since no innocent bystanders would be collected and since he knew that he (Hamlin) was going to be passed by several cars on newer tires anyway.

Hamlin has long said that some of the younger drivers need to learn a lesson, and NASCAR did not penalize Hamlin for the incident itself. In fact, it apparently wasn’t even on their radar.

But after he admitted to doing it intentionally, they docked him 25 points and hit him with a $50,000 fine. He wasn’t initially going to appeal, but he later changed his mind. That appeal is set to be heard by a panel this coming Thursday, April 6.

While Hamlin’s move on Sunday was, as Bowyer said, “very much on purpose”, Hamlin has never admitted that was his intention.

So by NASCAR’s past logic, he won’t be penalized for it. Elton Sawyer, senior Vice President of competition of NASCAR, even said after last Sunday’s road course race at Circuit of the Americas that aggressive driving has been part of NASCAR’s DNA for more than seven decades, which drew an interesting response from Hamlin.

So based on that precedent, which certainly isn’t limited to the Hamlin/Chastain situation, what can NASCAR do? Well, they can technically do whatever they want, but that’s a whole different issue.

Of course, the next thing you know, Hamlin will go a step further and admit on his podcast that he intentionally sped in the pits twice during Sunday’s race, and NASCAR will hit him with a 100-point penalty and a $100,000 fine.

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But on a serious note, more than likely, nothing will happen unless Hamlin admits intent. And that simply continues a dangerous precedent that NASCAR set long ago.