NASCAR decision sets a very dangerous precedent

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin’s 25-point penalty being upheld sets a dangerous precedent that NASCAR drivers are only penalized if they admit intent.

The contact between the No. 11 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and the No. 1 Chevrolet of Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain during overtime of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway a few weeks ago wasn’t really on NASCAR’s radar until Hamlin spoke about it on his Actions Detrimental podcast later that week.

Hamlin and Chastain have a history of on-track incidents with one another, and Hamlin has long said that some of the sport’s younger drivers need to learn a lesson.

Without affecting any innocent bystanders, he figured that this was an ideal opportunity to make his point to Chastain. Knowing that he (Hamlin) was going to be passed by a number of other drivers on newer tires anyway, he decided to get into Chastain and send him into the wall. The pair went from the top 10 to finishing outside of the top 20.

Only after Hamlin admitted his intent did NASCAR decide to dock him 25 points and fine him $50,000.

That points penalty, which is currently the difference between Hamlin being in a 10th place tie and seventh in the standings, and fine were both upheld by an appeals panel this past week.

On the surface, it makes sense that NASCAR would penalize a driver for this sort of action. But the fact that they only penalized him after he admitted his intent continues a worrying trend of such penalties that goes back several years and has affected a number of drivers.

It has really become this simple: race others however you want to race them, don’t admit it if you in any way mean to manipulate any sort of outcome, and you’re safe.

With that in mind, who is every going to say anything moving forward? Honesty is clearly not the best policy here.

Look no further than this past Sunday’s race at Richmond Raceway as proof that this has become the standard. Hamlin spun out Rick Ware Racing’s J.J. Yeley early in the race, and it was blatantly obvious to everybody watching that he did it intentionally.

Fox was literally showing his on-board camera to viewers when it unfolded, and Yeley unsurprisingly later accused Hamlin of being a hypocrite, given his recent spiel on racing others with respect. The fact that he pulled the move on a lesser funded organization’s car and driver made it even worse, in the eyes of some fans.

But Hamlin never came right out and said, “Yes, I did that on purpose”, and as a result, NASCAR took no action. There was never even consideration of any sort of penalty.

The lone recent exception to this precedent was when Bubba Wallace was suspended for a race when he maliciously wrecked Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October.

That decision made him only the first driver suspended for an on-track action in seven years. Given the egregious nature of that crash, NASCAR had no choice but to take action — even though Wallace accused a reporter of “fishing” when asked about it afterward. He was not docked any points.

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Bottom line, don’t expect anybody to come clean when it comes to contact on the race track from now on. It’s simply not worth the points deduction or the fine.