Denny Hamlin could have got out of his car Sunday following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 and told reporters on hand that the sky was blue and it would have been no different than what he actually said that day.
If he had said the sky was blue, those absorbing that comment would have likely shrugged it off with a reaction like, “Sure Denny, all we had to do was look and we could have seen that.”
Instead Hamlin criticized the racing that took place and the lack of passing produced by drivers competing in NASCAR’s much ballyhooed new Gen 6 cars.
Those absorbing to the comments he made could have easily shrugged them off with a reaction like: “Sure Denny, all we had to do was look and we could have seen that.”
Hamlin spoke the truth in his comments to reporters, and that’s what makes the $25,000 fine NASCAR announced it was slapping him with Thursday all the more strange.
He didn’t offer any sort of vial disparaging vitriol about the new car. He didn’t criticize the designers or call it a mistake or a dumb idea. He didn’t criticize NASCAR or its officials or anything like that. He simply said the car doesn’t produce a lot of passing and it still needs some work.
He described what he thought was wrong with the car and why there wasn’t a lot of passing on the track at Phoenix and how, even though he started the race from the back and finished third he didn’t pass a lot of cars under racing conditions.
It wasn’t with angry tones that he delivered the message, no fiery words meant to insult those behind the design of the car or NASCAR’s decisions to make changes.
It was an honest assessment. Anybody that watched the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23 or Sunday’s event from Phoenix could see with their own eyes, that the Gen 6 car is hardly producing dramatic racing.
And yet, for speaking the truth, a truth that fans could see right there for themselves, Hamlin was fined $25,000.
Hamlin was cited under NASCAR’s catch-all penalty “actions detrimental to stock car racing.”
“Following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon,” read the penalty statement from NASCAR. “While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”
Before the Daytona 500 reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski offered some candid views about what he sees good and bad about the sport in a USA Today article. It earned him a visit with NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France and International Speedway Corporation chairman Lesa France Kennedy.
About the meeting, NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes told Yahoo Sports: “There are some things Brad’s not as informed on. He’s not aware of things that are being worked on or achieved. The message Brian wanted to send was you need to understand the issues you’re talking about a little deeper before you talk about them.”
Read into that how you may. It’s not hard to figure out that Keselowski was likely told to keep his opinions to himself if he wanted to keep what he had in his wallet.
And one can say NASCAR is setting a bad precedent, but unfortunately it seems there’s no such thing as a precedent any more from the sanctioning body.
In so many ways in the sport, what’s ruled on today seems to have no bearing on tomorrow. What is acceptable this week is unacceptable next week and might just be acceptable again in a few more weeks.
Example, NASCAR’s recent Battle at the Beach, where officials threw the rulebook out the window for three races and allowed for Enduro style competition despite not telling competitors that was exactly what was going to happen.
It’s a strange media center world NASCAR has cultivated. Hamlin and Keselowski, two of the bright young stars of the sport and two of it’s most well spoken competitors, seem to be squelched around every corner by the sanctioning body. Then you have three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart who regularly uses his mandated media sessions like he’s a bully on the playground during third grade recess, belittling, berating and insulting reporters week after week in doing his best to avoid most questions asked of him.
The message NASCAR sends is, treat the media like gum on the bottom of a shoe and you’re fine, tell them the truth and we’re going to get you.
It begs the question, what does NASCAR want? Do they want personalities on display or do they want robotic clones reading from a script written by their own public relations staff?
NASCAR can say all they want that drivers are free to be themselves and express their opinions, though their actions seem to send an altogether different message. Free speech sure is expensive these days for Sprint Cup drivers.
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