Kyle Petty rips NASCAR for penalizing Denny Hamlin (Photo: Kyle Petty)
By Mike Mulhern
Did NASCAR executives go too far this time in hitting Denny Hamlin Thursday with a $25,000 fine for his post-race comments Sunday evening after the Phoenix 500?
Hamlin's analysis of that race and how the new 2013 stock cars performed was rather mild-mannered, all things considered. And, to be blunt, Hamlin's comments were right on the mark -- the new cars still need tweaks to make them handle better, as anyone who watched Daytona and Phoenix could easily attest.
But NASCAR officials, certainly with the okay by, if not orders from, president Mike Helton and CEO Brian France have made it quite clear to drivers and teams they want to hear no complaints at all about the new cars. Hamlin's fine is only the latest NASCAR slap at drivers for offering their opinions. Hamlin has been heavily fined before, a secret fine at the time. And Brad Keselowski, the sport's current champion, has been fined too.
So did NASCAR go too far this time?
To judge from comments on Facebook and Twitter, fans Thursday were generally siding heavily with Hamlin and against NASCAR.
Kyle Petty, the frequently outspoken driver-and-tv-analyst on hot button issues in this sport, wasted no time jumping into this fray, and with some blistering comments of his own. At word that Hamlin himself does not want to pay this fine, as unwarranted, Petty says "I'm going to stand behind Denny on this one."
Hamlin is not happy: "This is the most upset and angry I've been in a really, really long time about anything that relates to NASCAR.
"The truth is what the truth is, and I don't believe in this. I'm never going to believe in it. And so as far as I’m concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me at this point."
Kyle Petty, the third generation NASCAR Petty, comes from a solid line of stock car racers willing to stand up for what they believe. Here Kyle (center), with Richard (center-left) and Maurice. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"Just because it's NASCAR's ball and their ballpark and they make the rules doesn't necessarily mean that there can be censorship. And there appears to be a lot of censorship in this fine," Petty went on.
"NASCAR wants drivers to have personalities and character and to express themselves... but only if they say positive and not negative things. I don't know anyone who can do that.
"I'm going to buy me a Denny Hamlin hat and tee-shirt, because drivers should stick up for themselves.
"It's hard to believe that this sport has come to this, where we fine drivers for comments.
"Whatever happened to fining drivers for big motors and illegal bodies and cheating on the track? Now it appears they don't have a right to have an opinion off the race track.
"I could not survive in this sport as a driver at this time. I'd be paying a fine every week. I'd be broke.
"But here's the way it works: It's NASCAR's ball, their ballpark, their rules, and if you want to play, you got to pay. You can stand up and blow smoke and hot air all you want, but somebody's going to have to pay that fine if it comes down to that.. or it's going to have to be appealed and overturned."
Kyle Petty is never one to shy away from a challenge...even one presented by the NASCAR Frances (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)