An outraged Denny Hamlin said on Thursday he will not pay the $25,000 fine levied by NASCAR for his “disparaging remarks” about the new Sprint Cup car following Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
“Ultimately, I’m not OK with it,” Hamlin told ESPN “NASCAR Now” reporter Jamie Little and other media outlets during the Gen-6 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “This is the most upset and angry I’ve been in a really, really long time about anything … anything that relates to NASCAR.
“The truth is what the truth is. I don’t believe in this. 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.”
According to the NASCAR rulebook, failure to pay a fine may result in suspension. The rulebook also says unpaid fines may be collected by deducting money earned from a race weekend.
Hamlin issued a statement on Twitter on Thursday night, saying he will appeal the fine.
“The short of the long of it is I believe I was severely disrespected by NASCAR by getting fined,” he tweeted. “I believe that the simple fact of us not even having a conversation about this issue before I was hit with a fine has something to say about our relationship. What I said was 1 sentence taken completely out of context. Most drivers will tell you that we constantly have our AND nascars best interest in mind when speaking.
“On the other hand I am a person that worked very hard from the BOTTOM to get where I am today and someone telling me that I can give my 100 percent honest opinion really bothers me. Since being fined in 2010 I have been a lot more careful about what I say to media and I felt this past weekend felt completely in my rights to give a assessment of the question asked. I feel as if today NASCAR lost one of its biggest supporters vocally of where our sport is headed.
“So in the end there are no winners. I said today I would not pay the fine. I stand by that and will go through the process of appealing. Trust me, this is not about the money.. It’s much deeper. I will now shift my focus on giving FedEx and my team what they deserve this weekend, a win.”
Hamlin tweeted earlier in the evening that the statement came with no assistance from his public relations department or that of Joe Gibbs Racing .
“We have spoken with NASCAR and will continue to keep an open dialogue with them on this matter, but we will keep those discussions between the parties involved,” Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement released Friday. “We will fully support Denny in his appeal process.”
NASCAR announced the fine on Thursday, saying Hamlin’s comments violated Section 12-1 of the NASCAR rulebook that includes all actions detrimental to stock car racing.
Spokesman Kerry Tharp said the governing body draws the line on criticizing the new car that NASCAR has spent the past few months promoting.
“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,” NASCAR said in a statement. “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.”
NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said Hamlin can appeal the fine.
“It’s like every other appeal,” he said. “Over the course of time, you remember mechanics and crew chiefs, whatever, if they appeal, then they can continue to carry on business as usual until the appeal has been heard and ruled on.”
Pemberton said there was no warning given to drivers about criticizing the car during preseason competition meetings.
“Those were some of the conversations we may have had a few years ago,” he said. “But it’s more of a matter of fact that you can’t criticize your core product, what you’re trying to do.
“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.”
Hamlin was critical of the Gen-6 car and single-file racing at Phoenix a week after fans complained about the single-file racing in the Daytona 500.
“I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Gen-5 cars,” Hamlin told reporters after the race won by Carl Edwards. “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. 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.”
Pemberton, while not addressing the performance of the car of which Hamlin was critical, said NASCAR and Goodyear are looking at building tires that could improve performance.
“It comes in many different ways, shapes and forms,” he said. “It comes in tire sizes, tire widths, heights, staggers. It comes in whether the tire is a softer left and a harder right that may perform better or vice versa.
“As many of you know, Goodyear continues to test every year to try to improve tire wear or tire grip. So that is ongoing.”
This isn’t the first time Hamlin has been fined for voicing his opinion. He was docked $50,000 in 2010 for comments on phantom debris cautions made on Twitter following the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
It is the second time a NASCAR driver has been penalized for comments this season. Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was suspended indefinitely after the season opener at Daytona International Speedway for using a racial slur in the presence of an MTV reporter.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not going to say anything the rest of the year … as long as it relates to competition,” Hamlin said. “You can ask me how my daughter is, and talk to me after wins about what have you. But as long as it relates to competition, I’m out from here on out.
“The bad part is I feel I’ve been a pretty good spokesman for [NASCAR] in being positive when things aren’t always positive. They lost one small spokesman today, that’s all.”
Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer, who also drives a Toyota, said that what happened to Hamlin would not impact what he says in the future.
“You know, I’m going to shoot you straight,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. You guys included. We’ve got to — this is an important time for us. We’ve got a great thing going with this Gen-6 car.
“Our manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on this race car and we’re all proud of it — NASCAR included. Anything is going to take time. Anytime you make something — completely start over from scratch — and do things to make your program better, your sport, or whatever you want to call it, it’s going to take time. It’s a work in progress. You’re not just going to start the very first race out with something new.”
Hamlin is fourth in points after his third-place finish at Phoenix. A suspension ultimately could lead to his missing the Chase for the first time in his Cup career.
“It’s an opinion,” Hamlin explained of what he said. “It’s not even a bad one. I have to be careful. I don’t want to make things worse than they already are. And this is something that was absolutely nothing, and it got blown into something.
“It’s just going to be worse for them. Let them deal with it.”