COMMENTARY | Accusations of cheating or fixing results.
Vulgar displays or words on camera.
Racist or otherwise insensitive comments.
This list includes some of the legitimate reasons NASCAR could cite when fining a driver for his post-race comments. I recognize that drivers can't just say whatever they want without some sort of limitations.
But if you've followed the Denny Hamlin fine story this week, you know that none of these things happened. What did happen was Denny told reporters after the Phoenix race that he was not happy with his car's ability to pass.
Here are Hamlin's comments. You tell me if this is worth a $25,000 fine:
"We learned a lot. I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five 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."
So to paraphrase a brilliant Twitter post I saw this week, Denny Hamlin got fined $25,000 for criticizing an inanimate object.
NASCAR's rationale is as follows:
"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."
Sorry, but that reasoning is so thin it's a tight-rope. The only thing being denigrated in this process is our intelligence.
'Severely disrespected'Hamlin has said since the fine that he feels "severely disrespected," "upset" and "angry" -- and he should. This sort of arbitrary fining of anyone who expresses a thought is like something out of a George Orwell novel. Big Brother anyone?
And the effect of this is chilling. Drivers are afraid to even speak to the media about the car now, for fear of getting their own fine. Somehow I doubt that's what NASCAR wants.
Badmouthing the bossWhile the majority of reaction to this fine has been that NASCAR is completely out of line, I saw many folks online defending the fine. Their argument is this: If you went out in public and badmouthed the company you work for, you'd get in trouble, too.
And I would agree, if that's what Hamlin had done. But, in fact, Hamlin did not badmouth the sport -- he badmouthed the ability of the current equipment being used in the sport to produce a quality racing product.
Hamlin was simply saying what his experience was like at Phoenix, and there's no one better to tell what the cars can do than people who just drove them for four hours. NASCAR doesn't need to be listening to every word said about the Gen 6 car with its finger ready to push the fine button. Instead, it should be listening to every word about the car that drivers say, taking notes, and using that information to improve the car.
Do as they sayNASCAR's expectation that every driver puts on a fake smile and cheers on the Gen 6 car even if he had a terrible day in it is beyond ridiculous. In fact, it basically encourages drivers to lie about their feelings.
Is that really what the France family, Mike Helton, and the rest of NASCAR' s leadership want? A bunch of guys (and Danica) shining their pearly whites and giving thumbs up signs to whatever NASCAR wants them to say?
I hope not, because if that's how it becomes, I and many others would probably look elsewhere for our entertainment on Sundays.
Fight the good fight, DennyThis fine really sets NASCAR back a long way in the public eye, and I hope it's corrected in the appeals process. Hamlin was indignant when he heard about the fine, because he knows he did nothing wrong. So do I. So do most fans.
The only people who don't seem to get it are sitting in offices in Daytona Beach.
Hamlin will have some very good arguments to make when appealing, and I honestly believe that this decision will end up being overturned or at the very least softened. The public relations nightmare it has already created is huge. Even people like former Cup champ Dale Jarrett are saying this decision has seriously hurt NASCAR's credibility, and I hope he's just among the first voices in a growing chorus within the sport's elite. If enough people of significance tell NASCAR they're out of line with this fine, maybe it actually understand the error of its ways.
Fix the carsThe reality of the situation is this fine should have never happened, and I think NASCAR is starting to realize it. The rule Denny violated (actions detrimental to stock car racing) has been perverted here. Heck, I would argue that if the sport's leadership is happy with cars that don't pass on the track, that's more detrimental to stock car racing than anything Hamlin could say. (There's not much "racing" going on if there's no passing.)
So what needs to happen now? NASCAR needs to reverse Denny's fine, start talking to the drivers about how to make this car better, and get off its high horse.
It's one thing to be a cheerleader for your sport, but it's another thing to pretend everything is peachy when the new car is still a very rough product.
That's why this fine is so infuriating to the fans, and even moreso to all the drivers. The only upshot of this is that Denny is standing up for himself, and his team is standing behind him. I hope that will embolden other drivers to speak their minds, too, and help this get this car in better shape.
After all, it can't fine everyone.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.