By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Denny Hamlin says he won't pay the $25,000 fine levied by NASCAR for comments made after last Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"The truth is what the truth is, and I don't believe in this," said Hamlin, who indicated he had been fined for post-race comparisons between NASCAR's new Gen-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup race car and its predecessor, the Gen-5 version introduced in 2007 as the "Car of Tomorrow."
"I'm never going to believe in it. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point."
NASCAR announced the fine Thursday as Cup drivers spent an extra day practicing and dialing in their cars for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR determined that Hamlin had violated section 12-1 of the rule book (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and issued the following statement in announcing the fine:
"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."
In a question-and-answer session behind his transporter between practice sessions, Hamlin indicated that comparisons between the cars were the crux of the matter.
"From what I understand, it's comparing the Gen-6 car to the Gen-5, comparing the two," he said. "I shouldn't have done that."
Specifically, this is what Hamlin said after the race:
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation-5 cars. 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. (If) 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."
Hamlin's fine sends a clear message that drivers should steer clear of comments about competition that NASCAR construes as negative.
"We give them quite a bit of latitude," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "You can't slam the racing. You can't slam the product. That's where it crosses the line."
Hamlin has crossed that line before. In 2010 he was docked $50,000 (with a fine that was levied secretly and later acknowledged publicly) for questioning on Twitter the legitimacy of late-race cautions in a Nationwide Series event.
Though Hamlin's parting shot to reporters was, "I'm not paying anything," he has options other than a refusal to pay. Hamlin can appeal by submitting a request to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel within 10 days of notification of the fine.
If the Appeals Panel rules against Hamlin, he can escalate his appeal to the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer, John Middlebrook.
"This isn't any different than an illegal part or piece," Pemberton said of the appeal process.
No matter the course he chooses, Hamlin said he will refrain from future comments on competition issues.
"I'll be honest -- I'm not going to say anything for the rest of the year, as long as it relates to competition," Hamlin said. "You can ask me how my daughter is, talk to me after wins about what-have-you, but as long as it relates to competition, I'm out, from here on out."
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
To hasten the development of the new Gen-6 race cars, it's important for race teams to test the limits of their capabilities. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, says the sanctioning body is pleased with the teams' willingness to do just that.
"We expect the teams to continue to push the limits of their equipment, and that's what important," Pemberton said after the first session of practice at Las Vegas. "I think early on there were concerns over reliability on parts and pieces, because we've pushed the envelope out there with cambers and things of that nature, the rear-end housing... the left-front camber maximum was increased.
"So it's up to the teams to continue to push and make their cars drive the best that they can. So far, everyone seems to be doing their job. Speeds are right in the range that we expected to see for the first day."
In fact, speeds increased throughout the sessions, with Greg Biffle posting the day's fastest lap (189.427 mph) late in Thursday's second practice. Kasey Kahne's track qualifying record from March 2012 is 190.456 mph.