The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is already in Las Vegas, where the Kobalt Tools 400 will take place this Sunday. However, the news of the day had to be with something that happened five days ago at Phoenix International Raceway.
NASCAR has fined Denny Hamlin, driver of the Toyota N°11 for Joe Gibbs Racing, with $25,000 for "disparaging remarks about the on-track racing" after the second race of the new season.
After finishing third in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR, Denny Hamlin expressed his point of view regarding the low possibilities of passing rivals with the Gen-6 car and seemed to angered NASCAR officials who are concerned about the new car's public perception.
This is the most upset and angry I've been in a long, long time about anything that relates to NASCAR.
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation-Five (Car of Tomorrow) cars", Hamlin said after the race. "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.
"It's frustrating because you can catch a guy, you just can't pass him. Once you get in his wake, there's just no getting around him. That's just something that's a byproduct of a new car that we really haven't developed all that much. A very, very hard tire from Goodyear – especially on the left side. We've got to get that softer. Once we do that, you'll have some tire wear and overtaking like there's supposed to be,” the driver added.
On Thursday, with the information of the fine, Hamlin was very clear about his position: "This is the most upset and angry I've been in a long, long time about anything that relates to NASCAR," he said after a test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "The truth is what the truth is. I don't believe in this (fine), I'm never going to believe in this. 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."
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, was the man in charge of speaking for NASCAR in the LVMS's media center about the situation. Said drivers are given latitude with their comments, but he added "you can't slam your racing, you can't slam your product" because it crosses a line.
"Constructive criticism is one thing, but there are different statements people make that are damaging. We won't tolerate those types of things," Pemberton remarked.
Truth is that Hamlin's words had been overlooked and even though NASCAR has the right to fine competitors, they have now made of this the first big controversy of the season, giving more exposure to the passing situation of the Gen-6 car. But more important, NASCAR has now put drivers in a very difficult situation when it comes to their reactions about the present of the sport. Where’s the limit to fine a driver for saying what he thinks? NASCAR has marked the line. What’s your opinion?