NASCAR has fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 for making what officials perceived as inexcusably critical comments about the new Generation 6 car after last Sunday's Phoenix race. As NASCAR said in a statement:
"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. 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."
What exactly did Hamlin say? He had some postrace comments about the racing and the car that appeared to be critical, but did they rise to the level of denigration?
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars [a.k.a. "Car of Tomorrow"]," Hamlin said. "This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything."
Here's another line: "I hate to be 'Denny-downer,' but I just didn't pass that many cars today. That's the realistic fact of it."
If those are indeed the comments that got Hamlin fined, that's just flat-out ridiculous. Hamlin was stating facts about passing and single-file racing, and noted that the teams still need to determine how best to get the cars up to speed.
"I do believe we give our drivers a lot of flexibility when it comes to that, whether it be about officiating or about how a race is called," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp told several reporters in Las Vegas on Thursday. "The main area of focus here we take exception to is the product, the racing. That's our brand, that's the drivers' brand, that's the sport's brand and that's an area we feel very strongly about."
Still, there's protective and there's paranoid. NASCAR is understandably and justifiably proud of the Gen 6 car; its appearance compared to the Car of Tomorrow is like comparing Beyonce to a brick. Fining a driver for commentary like this comes off as petty, and we're not talking The King.
The chief complaint among lapsed and wavering NASCAR fans is that the drivers are whitebread, vanilla automatons compared to their forebears. It's tough to get NASCAR drivers to show more personality, but it's an easy matter indeed to get them to show less: pop them every time they step out of a proscribed line.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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