Denny Hamlin: I won't pay. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
That hotly controversial $25,000 fine NASCAR hit Denny Hamlin with, for offering his brief opinion about the new lackluster 2013s after a less-than-thrilling Phoenix 500K 10 days ago -- NASCAR late Thursday abruptly called the matter "closed."
Neither NASCAR officials nor Hamlin would say just what went on behind closed doors the past few days in their discussions over the issue, which created a whirlwind of negative comments on social media from fans' dissatisfied with NASCAR's heavy-handed actions.
Hamlin at Las Vegas last weekend said he was highly upset over the NASCAR penalty and would not pay the fine. At that time he indicated he would file a routine appeal; but Thursday he and NASCAR said there would be no appeal.
Under normal rules, if a driver refuses to pay a fine, he can be suspended or his fine may be subtracted either from his race day earnings or from his end-of-the-season point fund money.
It appears that is the case Hamlin is taking, but it is not clear.
"NASCAR announced today that the $25,000 fine assessed to driver Denny Hamlin on March 7 will be settled per Section 12-3 of the 2013 NASCAR rule book after being informed by Hamlin that he will not appeal the penalty. Hamlin was fined after the sanctioning body determined he had violated Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing). NASCAR considers this matter closed."
Hamlin's statement, via Twitter:
"After a lot of thought I have decided not to appeal the fine NASCAR has issued. Dragging myself, my team and NASCAR through the mud for the next 2 weeks would not be good for anyone. I firmly believe I am in the right on this issue and will stand behind my decision not to pay. I understand NASCAR will do what they feel is necessary based on my decision. Thanks to all of my fans and peers who have supported me in this decision. I look forward to putting it to rest."
The background here:
NASCAR's new 2013 model stockers are part of a major new marketing plan, designed to eliminate the 'common template' complaints and other gripes about the disliked car-of-tomorrow, used the last six seasons on the Sprint Cup tour. And NASCAR executives have warned drivers and teams, in no uncertain terms, not to say anything bad about the new 2013s, under penalty of NASCAR's wrath.
However the 2013s are months behind schedule, for some reason, and handling clearly needs tweaking.
The Daytona 500, which was single-file, follow-the-leader for more than three hours, was one of the least exciting Daytona races in decades; and Carl Edwards crashed five times, indicating some of the issues drivers were facing.
The Phoenix 500K March 3 featured erratic racing and not much 'real' passing. NASCAR's own figures, derived from the numerous asphalt-embedded scoring loops, showed that this year's Phoenix race had 1,213 passes-for-position under green, compared to last year's 1,658 such passes, with the old COT.
Hamlin, who won last year's Phoenix race and finished third, via good pit calls, this time, said after that race that the new car wasn't as good as the old car, at the moment. Of course that was only the second Cup race for the new car.
Hamlin's comments went virtually unnoticed, until NASCAR executives last Thursday decided to fine him $25,000, thus raising the profile of the complaint....and earning the anger from a considerable number of race fans, who stormed social media to decry NASCAR's actions.
Dale Jarrett, one of NASCAR's top drivers during his prime, and the 1999 Winston Cup championship, and now a TV analyst, castigated NASCAR officials for hitting Hamlin with such a penalty. Jarrett said that NASCAR, by that action, was endangering its credibility.
Kyle Petty, the former driver now also TV commentator, also ripped NASCAR for the penalty, calling it censorship.
Drivers, already skittish about offering any comments even remotely controversial, after several similar huge fines from NASCAR, were noticeably reluctant to say anything about anything last weekend at Las Vegas. Whether NASCAR officials can undo or ameliorate that imbroglio remains to be seen.