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Denny Hamlin confirms NASCAR just hit him with one of those 'secret' penalties: for politically-incorrect Twitters

  A beautiful day in the Poconos for Denny Hamlin...who is still a little miffed over that $50,000 'secret' penalty hit him with (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   So NASCAR's 'Boys, have at it' has its limits....off the track at least, and when a drivers says something NASCAR officials don't like.
   Or maybe it's simply that NASCAR executives are trying to intimidate drivers into becoming more politically correct, less outspoken, more in tune with what NASCAR wants them to say.
   Denny Hamlin confirmed he's been hit with one of NASCAR's new controversial 'secret' penalties, reportedly a $50,000 fine, but neither he nor NASCAR would confirm that.
   And Hamlin, like Ryan Newman, also hit with a 'secret' penalty, still doesn't seem very happy about it all or even really agree with the call by NASCAR.
   Hamlin pointed out that NASCAR's Jim Hunter -- the well-respected veteran official, public relations specialist, ex-track president and former newspaper reporter – has long insisted the drivers can indeed freely voice their opinions, and that NASCAR would never penalize drivers for something they might say.
   "Jim Hunter said 'Hey, voice your opinion through the media, and it will get to us," Hamlin said Friday. "It's always worked."
   Until now.
   "They said 'Don't do that,'" Hamlin went on. 
    "It's kind of contradictory."
    However Hamlin says he's now 'seen the light,' after getting the new word from NASCAR.
    "I understand there is a better way to do it now," Hamlin says contritely...well, sort of.
    "Still it's tough for me, because I want to make things better...and I never really criticize anyone, I just want to voice my opinion and where I think we should go with the sport."
    That apparently just cost him $50,000.
    He says he sees NASCAR's side, though he doesn't necessarily agree with it.
   "I understand why they did it," he said.
    "Whether you agree with it or not, it happened. 
    "They're in control."
     Hamlin said "I've always been raised to speak my mind....and be maybe too over-opinionated at times. 
    " But I hope to be here 15 or 20 years, and I'd like to have a healthy sport.
    "We're all in it together, and I understand that."
    That was a phrase repeated by nearly every driver Friday, and several of them, like Tony Stewart, pointedly criticized the media for criticizing NASCAR.
    Speaking of Tony Stewart....Hamlin pointed out that "I've noticed that other people (like) Tony Stewart have said way worse stuff than I have, way worse. 
     "Direct hits at somebody, and got away with it. 
     "But the difference is that this year they (NASCAR) said in January 'Listen, it's really taking its toll on people's outlook of the sport when you say something like that.
    "So they said 'We're going to be more aggressive when you say something that's negative.'
    "Of course that's been six months, and my memory is really short...so I was just gladly awoken last week."
    That's when the fine was levied.
   And what was it that really got Hamlin in such trouble?
    "I don't really know what it was," he insisted. "It's more than likely the Twitter comments, more than anything, that got me in trouble with them. 
    "I guess the Chicago weekend, talking about some of the Nationwide stuff.
    "Most of those conversations were all direct messages to one person; it wasn't really sent out to the public."
   On the plus side of the affair, Hamlin says he now knows "there's a better way to do it.  Up until two weeks ago I didn't have Mike Helton's phone number or Steve O'Donnell's phone number. (Those are two top NASCAR officials.)
    "How was I going to voice my opinion if I didn't know how to get in touch with them?
    "I feel I have a pretty good heartbeat of what the fans like to see and what they don't like to see. I like to tell NASCAR those things.
    "Now I really do believe that they have listened -- with the whole Talladega thing last year (all the crashes). They really are working to make it better."

    So regardless of what the trigger point was for NASCAR execs in this, why the secrecy? 
     "That I don't know," Hamlin said. 
    "When I asked what was the point of fining me if you're not going to tell anyone, they said 'Hopefully it will keep anyone from bad-mouthing us.'"
    And what exactly are drivers not allowed by NASCAR officials to say?
   "I don't know," Hamlin said.
    "They did give me a pretty good log book of all the negative things I've had to say over the last couple of months. 
    "Anybody that follows me on Twitter, probably half of them follow me for the quotes."
    His own bosses Joe and J. D. Gibbs knew about the fines (Tony Stewart insisted he didn't know about Ryan Newman's.)
    "Of course they don't agree with it," Hamlin said. "They're going to stick up for their driver.
    "Within a few days after them telling me what was going to happen, we were all sitting down in one room together talking about what we can do to make the sport better."
   So now Denny Hamlin becomes just another plain vanilla driver, effectively 'neutered'?
   "It's tough to say," Hamlin says. "I don't want to lose any more money...but I just want to be myself. 
    "I've told them over and over 'What if I don't agree with something?  What do you want me to say?  Do you want me to lie and tell something I don't really truly believe in?' Because I've never been brought up to do that.
    "They said 'No, but there's different ways to do it.'
    "We got to talking about that, and in the end I did see that."
    And Hamlin conceded he will 'tone down everything.'
    Still, it's a tough spot, Hamlin says: "I always said I was never going to sell-out, was always going to say what I wanted to say...."
    But apparently that was finally too much for NASCAR.
    Hamlin's 32,000 Twitter fans: "They are the heartbeat of our sport...and I guess they don't need me influencing them, and saying we need to work on a lot of things.
   "You've got to be a role model for the sport, and be positive, because, honestly, it does affect everyone out there."
   And then on a more practical level Hamlin says he needs to do whatever NASCAR tells him because he doesn't want to risk getting a lot more penalties on the track. One member of his team pointed out some oddities in the way caution flags at Indianapolis suddenly seemed to be working against him when he was to get back on the lead lap.
    "We're getting ready to come up on some very important tracks for us, this one being one of them, and we don't need anything happening bad to us, or getting penalized for anything on the race track," Hamlin said.
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   Denny Hamlin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Just what did Hamlin or

Just what did Hamlin or Newman say that angered NASCAR to this point? Given the sport's declining popularity and the failures of The Chase, "Boys Have At It," the COT, and basically everything Brian France has tried this decade, I am baffled at what those two drivers could have said that would warrant a fine like this.

It all sounds like Brian France is in fundamental denial and is lashing out at anyone questioning his credibility as a leader.

well, you might well be

well, you might well be right. i am simply stunned at this 'secret' penalty stuff. and i am upset -- but not really surprised -- that those working for NASCAR's TV 'partners' are not bothered by any of it. i think too many here are making too much money to want to anger nascar and risk that paycheck.
the latest twist in all this, that i'm just trying to digest, is that the NFL is doing great, records here and there. what is the nfl doing right that nascar ought to be doing too?

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