On Friday at Pocono, Denny Hamlin spoke at length about the fine he received from NASCAR. Here's a transcript of his comments:
What can you say about the fine you received?
"I understand why, I know why they did it. Whether you agree with it or not, it happened. They're in control. I've always been raised to speak my mind and be maybe too over-opinionated at times. Like I've told those guys, I hope to be here in 15, 20 years and if that's the case, I'd like to have a healthy sport going on to have a long career.
"We're all in it together and I understand that. I definitely understand it. I don't really know what it was. It's more than likely the Twitter comments more than anything that kind of got me in trouble with them. I guess the Chicago weekend talking about some of the Nationwide stuff. Most of those conversations were all direct messages to one person (Editor's note: Hamlin later revised his comments to say he meant "replies"). It wasn't really sent out to the public, to all the followers. I understand it, but whether you agree with it or not, we all have to work together to make this all better."
How will this change the way you communicate your thoughts on the sport?
"I think there's a better way to do it. Up until two weeks ago, I didn't have Mike Helton's phone number or Steve O'Donnell's phone number – nobody's phone number. How was I going to voice my opinion if I didn't know how to get in touch with them? I'm sure I could have, but on the other hand, Jim Hunter said, ‘Hey, voice your opinion through the media and it will get to us, it's always worked.'
"But they said don't do that. It's kind of contradictory, but I understand there is a better way to do it now. Still, it's tough for me because I do feel like I want to make things better and I never really criticize anyone, I just want to voice my opinion and where I think we should go with the sport."
How does this fine compare to what other sports do?
"It seems like we are trying to model ourselves somewhat over those (other sports), but it's such a unique sport. This isn't head-to-head competition like it is in other sports. A lot of it has to do with luck and all that stuff comes in to play. That's why we have the 36-week schedule and not a 10 or five. It takes a long time to determine who the real champion is during the course of the year.
"Even though we at times model ourselves after other sports, I think we have a unique enough sport that we have stood on our own for a long time and I think we could in the future as well. Everyone, that entire France family, has done a good job of getting us to this point right now."
Was this fine similar to what other sports do?
"It is, it's no different. That's the thing, NASCAR is probably the last one to really fine people based off of what they say, whether it shows a negative outlook. You can't really say, ‘Where's this coming from?' because it is in other sports. I think a lot of times that's kind of how we've gotten some of the changes that we've wanted in years past.
"I'm different in the aspect that I came from the Late Model series and watching races to the Cup Series in one year –faster than most of those guys that have been here for 20 years. I was just a race fan on the other side of the fence five years ago, six years ago. I feel like I have a pretty good heartbeat of what the fans like to see and what they don't like to see and things like that.
"I like to tell NASCAR those things, but it never seems like before a month ago, we never got together to figure out what that is. Now I really do believe that they have listened with the whole Talladega thing last year. They really are working to make it better. I was probably just jumping the gun a little bit. A lot of team people had (meetings) with NASCAR a month before us and I thought we weren't going to have our chance to voice our opinion and that's where I got frustrated and vented through Twitter."
Why was this fine handled in a secretive nature?
"That I don't know. Without getting in word for word, what I asked was, 'What's the point of fining me if you're not going to tell anyone?' They said, ‘Hopefully it will keep anyone from bad mouthing us.' Well no one knows. Maybe young guys coming up, if you say, ‘Hey, you fined Denny Hamlin for an X-amount of dollars for saying this,' I think you'll have people in the future saying they need to stay away from those comments.
"I think in the future, all this coming out is a positive thing, it really is. It's going to turn into a good thing. Even though they might not have wanted everyone to know, now that they do I think it happened for a reason and it's going to make our sport better."
What are you not allowed to say?
"I don't know. They did give me a pretty good log book of all the negative things I've had to say over the last couple of months. They were just for sure. Anybody that follows me on Twitter, probably half of them follow me for the quotes here and there."
How much was the fine?
"I can't say that. There's been illegal parts in the garage that have not gotten hit as bad as I did."
Are we going to lose the outspoken Denny Hamlin?
"It's tough to say. I don't want to lose any more money but I just want to be myself. That's all I can say and that's what I've told them over and over. I said, ‘What if I don't agree with something? What do you want me to say? Do you want me to lie and tell something I don't really truly believe in? Because I've never been brought up to do that.'
"And they said, 'No, but there's different ways to do it.' We got to talking about that. In the end I did see that. I think you will still see it, but it'll be a more toned-down fashion."
Do you think NASCAR should have kept the fines secret or announced them?
"In just my opinion and I'm not bashing anyone, but I think I would have for sure said, ‘This person is getting penalized.' To keep it from happening again. If nobody knows, nobody is going to learn from the mistakes of others. That's one thing that this sport is all about is learning from someone else's mistake. For sure, in my opinion it should have been let out, but this garage is a very small family and it will get around anyway. I think that people were going to find out one way or another."
Was the fine a surprise to you?
"That's the thing that I noticed is that other people before me, not to name names – Tony Stewart – have said way worse stuff than I have. Way worse. Direct hits at somebody and got away with it. But the difference is that this year they said in January, ‘Listen, it's really taking its toll on people's outlook of the sport when you say something like that and it shows numbers of when they hear something negative, their interest level drops.'
"So they said, ‘We're going to be more aggressive when you say something that's negative.' Of course that's been six months and my memory is really short so I was just gladly awoken last week."
Do all of the drivers have to say everything is great now?
"I just think you have to do it in a different way. I think you can be opinionated and they want you to be opinionated, it's just that you can't question whether it's a fixed sport or not because the bottom line is that it's not fixed, there's too much out here for chance for it to be fixed."
How do you feel about NASCAR looking at your Twitter feeds?
"When I started this whole Twitter thing a long time ago, I always said that I was never going to sell out and was always going to say what I wanted to say on it and this, that and the other. The more followers you get and the more people up in that tower that start following you and what you're saying, it goes out to a lot of people and a lot of race fans. That (group) of maybe 35,000 or so that follow me, 30,000 of them are true race fans that watch the sport week in and week out. They are the heartbeat of our sport and I guess they don't need me influencing them and saying that we need to work on a lot of things."
Is it important for the fans to believe there is a place where you can be yourself?
"I think that's one of the places that you can be, but this is a place, I'm in a position where I'm always, no matter what I say, on or off the record, it's always on the record. You just gotta continue to be a role model for the sport and be positive because honestly it does affect everyone out there."
Was your fine a big enough deterrent that you will really think about what you're going to say now?
"It was big enough that for sure, if I'm in the heat of the moment I will for sure pull the reins back because it costs a lot of money to be a race car driver whether people know it or not. We do get paid well, but it's an expensive sport to be a part of and everyone knows that. It's not about that.
"I'm happy, my money is going to charity, to be honest with you. That's money that's going to the NASCAR Foundation and it's going to go to several different children's charities that I support through my foundation. So one way or another it was going to go there anyway. I'm not too upset about that. It is a wakeup call to me that we all have to be in this together."