NASCAR: Major penalty could haunt Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Watkins Glen International, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Watkins Glen International, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

An episode of Denny Hamlin’s podcast could end up costing him a NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship and thus a decent sum of playoff points.

When Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin admitted on his Actions Detrimental podcast back in March that he intentionally drove Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain into the wall at Phoenix Raceway following the final restart, he probably didn’t think much of it.

Hamlin, who has long stated that some of the younger NASCAR Cup Series drivers need to learn a lesson, obviously wanted to make clear that, given his history with Chastain, the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet got exactly what was coming to him.

Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota, so did he.

Hamlin was willing to sacrifice what was already a small chance at a decent result at Phoenix, given his tire disadvantage to pretty much everybody restarting behind him, to take down Chastain. But after admitting that his contact with Chastain was indeed intentional, NASCAR looked into the matter more closely.

NASCAR ultimately decided to dock Denny Hamlin 25 points — not for causing the incident itself, but for admitting his intent.

Hamlin appealed the penalty, but his appeal was rejected.

Given how the playoff format works, a 25-point penalty in March doesn’t seem like a big deal. Every playoff driver’s point total gets reset at the start of each round, with the only differences being the playoff point totals that get added to each driver’s total. Hamlin’s penalty didn’t carry a playoff point deduction — directly, that is.

What makes it a much bigger deal is the fact that the playoff drivers who finish in the top 10 in the regular season point standings are all awarded more playoff points to start the postseason (and thus every ensuing round for which they remain championship eligible).

These playoff points, which are awarded on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale, are awarded in addition to the playoff points drivers earn via stage wins (one each) and race wins (five each).

Hamlin currently trails teammate Martin Truex Jr. by 39 points for the lead of the regular season standings. A 39-point deficit is not insurmountable, but closing that gap is a lot tougher than closing a 14-point gap, which is what Hamlin would be facing had he stayed quiet about Chastain.

Instead of being locked into a top two spot in the regular season standings with a great chance to win the regular season title, Hamlin could find himself as low as third place.

Again, it may not seem like a major deal, but the difference between winning the regular season championship and finishing in third place is seven playoff points.

That puts an entirely different spin on a seemingly insignificant penalty, especially considering the fact that we have seen drivers advance or be eliminated due to the narrowest of margins on several occasions before.

Sometimes honesty just isn’t the best policy. Hamlin, who even alluded to the penalty following his runner-up finish in Sunday afternoon’s race at Watkins Glen International, will certainly be hoping that he can limit the damage, because no, NASCAR isn’t going to be giving him those points back.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans $200 just for signing up and placing a single $5 wager, lists Hamlin as the third favorite to win this year’s championship at +600.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your $200 today!

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The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET this Saturday, August 26. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss the Coke Zero Sugar 400!