Denny Hamlin has been fined $25,000 by NASCAR for what has been deemed as "disparaging remarks" following the conclusion of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.
NASCAR wouldn't disclose exactly what Hamlin said that warranted a fine. In all likelihood it was the remarks he made about the single-file racing that took place at Phoenix that NASCAR took issue with.
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars," Hamlin said at Phoenix following a third-place finish. "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."
Hamlin was so rankled by the fine that he told reporters Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he wouldn't pay the fine and that NASCAR could go ahead and "suspend him" because "I don't care at this point."
That Hamlin was fined isn't surprising, as NASCAR has been adamant about portraying a positive image about its new Gen-6 car..
"We give them quite a bit of latitude, but you can't slam your racing, you can't slam your product," NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said Thursday. "That's where it crosses a line. Constructive criticism is one thing, but there's different statements that people made that are damaging. That's where we won't tolerate those types of things."
This line of thinking by NASCAR likely stems from the last time a new car was introduced. It is widely believed by some within NASCAR that the flood of negative remarks made by drivers led to the overwhelming amount of negativity from fans about the Car of Tomorrow. While safer, the CoT did not improve the quality of the on-track product that many fans had expected due to the aero sensitivity of the car, which made passing and side-by-side racing difficult.
While NASCAR is well within its right to fine to Hamlin, it is easy to question whether Hamlin said anything that could be construed as "disparaging."
In giving his opinion, Hamlin did so in manner that didn't criticize the Gen-6, but simply said the car raced much the way the CoT did when it first hit the track in 2007. And he never came close to echoing what Kyle Busch said after winning the first race featuring the CoT, who climbed out of his Chevrolet in Victory Lane and said the CoT "sucked."
Busch was never fined nor reprimanded for his observation.
Hamlin's ire is further understandable when you take into account that, unlike Busch, he was tactful with his remarks following two races that were dominated by single-file racing. The evidence also supports Hamlin's conclusion as the number of lead changes and green flag passes is down compared to this point a year ago.
If it's NASCAR's goal to make drivers reluctant to give their honest feedback on the Gen-6, then it likely succeeded.
However, the fine comes across as heavy-handed and while NASCAR will never be confused of operating like a democracy, the penalty makes the sanctioning body look more like a dictatorship.
And for a series that is often accused of having vanilla drivers who are afraid to show personality for fear of offending either NASCAR or their sponsors, punishing a driver for a remark that was made without malice and didn't offend anyone, only perpetuates the stereotype.
As it should, NASCAR has fined drivers for questioning the credibility of officials in regards to the timing of when a caution was displayed. This is a policy that is no different than other sports where if player questions a referee's decision publicly, a fine will almost always be issued.
This time Hamlin did no such thing. No accusations were levied, no credibility was questioned. All he did was make an observation that countless others already had.
In this instance, the only fine that should be issued is to NASCAR for overreacting and creating a PR battle that it can't win.