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Auto racing: Denny Hamlin feels disrespected by NASCAR fine

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 11:53 p.m. CDT
Denny Hamlin, whose pit crew is seen here during a qualifying race at Daytona, feels disrespected with the way NASCAR handled his recent fine.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin said Friday that he believes NASCAR was disrespectful by not contacting him before fining him $25,000 over critical comments about the new race car.

Hamlin said a bigger name would have at least gotten a courtesy call beforehand.

“That was the biggest complaint I had. If I was Jeff Gordon or Tony [Stewart], Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., or any Hendrick driver, they would have had a conversation before,” Hamlin said.

“Just to slap the fine on me and not tell me anything is what really, really bugged me. A lot.”

Last week, Hamlin stood firm in his refusal to pay the fine for criticizing the Gen-6 car following its second race of the season. He said he’d be suspended before he’d pay for a statement on pit road in Phoenix that many considered mild.

“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,” he said at Phoenix after a third-place finish.

But NASCAR, which spent last year developing the car with heavy input from the manufacturers to improve the on-track product, asked drivers to be careful in how they publicly talk about the car, in an effort to build a strong public reception. The previous “Car of Tomorrow” was panned from the beginning, in part because the drivers picked it apart early.

Hamlin said after being fined he’d appeal the penalty, but announced Thursday on Twitter he would not drag his Joe Gibbs Racing team through the process.

Still, he had informed NASCAR officials he would not write a check to cover the fine and was prepared for whatever action the sanctioning body chose to take against him. NASCAR indicated it will garnish the money from his winnings.

Hamlin still believes he was right and NASCAR overreacted, and while not revealing the details of his conversation with chairman Brian France, he also believes NASCAR realizes it overreacted with the fine.

“To go through an appeal, just to prove that I’m right, I don’t need to prove it,” Hamlin said. “They are very, very sensitive about this car. This is their baby.”

The fallout from the Hamlin episode is how drivers express themselves going forward.

A week ago, Hamlin said he’d only talk about winning races and his newborn daughter, and indicated Friday he’s unsure how candid he’ll be with the media. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said NASCAR sent a message on how it wants drivers to handle issues with the car.

“It’s crystal clear to me that if you have an issue about this car, you go inside the [NASCAR] truck and talk about it,” Johnson said. “You don’t use one of these [microphone] or this [media] room to communicate that.”

Hamlin seemed prickly about the lack of support he received from drivers last week – “I think some of the peers of mine, at least the ones that have a backbone and had the nerve to stick up for what they know is right and wrong, agreed,” he said – but indicated the public shouldn’t expect much more.

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