By admin | March 8, 2013
By Richard Allen
During the Sprint Cup testing session at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday, a story broke which revealed that driver Denny Hamlin had been fined $25,000 by NASCAR for essentially saying that the Gen-6 car did not race well in Phoenix last weekend
Specifically, Hamlin stated, “There’s a lot of room for improvement for this car. Obviously we saw a great finish. It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna take a little while for us to get these cars driving as good as we had with the Generation-5,” to Fox Network reporters after the race in Phoenix.
The 2013 calendar year is not off to the greatest of starts from a public relations standpoint for NASCAR. While television ratings were up sharply for the Daytona 500 compared to a year ago, there have also been other situations which have garnered a great deal of negative attention. Pieces and parts of a car hitting spectators during the Nationwide Series event in Daytona, Jeremy Clements being disciplined for using a racial slur in front of a blogger from MTV and a NASCAR official, and the revamped NASCAR.com(now run by NASCAR itself) not performing well during SpeedWeeks have all hurt the sport’s image and have combined to make the sport look less than its best early in the new season.
Now, a driver has been fined for a relatively benign remark that was regarded by many as truthful. For that matter, NASCAR’s own loop data revealed that there was more passing last year in Phoenix than this year.
But the story has taken an even more bizarre twist since the announcement of the fine. Hamlin declared on Thursday afternoon during the test session in Las Vegas that he has no intention of paying the fine.
Specifically, Hamlin released the following statement via Twitter explaining his position:
“The short of the long of it is I believe I was severely disrespected by NASCAR by getting fined. 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.”
It seems as if both NASCAR and Hamlin have painted themselves into a corner over this. But one stands to come out much better, at least in the eyes of the fans, than the other when all is said and done.
NASCAR has issued a fine over a benign comment, and like the recent Jeremy Clements case, they have managed to turn a small incident into an overblown national story. But they are a sanctioning body and no matter how ugly the situation may get, they have to carry through or lose all credibility with the other competitors.
This situation reminds me of the book and television mini-series “Band of Brothers” when Captain Sobel issued an undeserved punishment to Lieutenant Winters just to show that he held authority over him. Winters then bucked and asked for trial by Courts Martial. Ultimately, it was the punishing party who came away looking like the loser.
NASCAR faces that same type scenario here. A movement on Twitter has already begun using the #IStandWithDenny hashtag. There is little chance the sanctioning body comes out of this looking good.
Hamlin, too, cannot back down from his stance. After declaring that he won’t pay the fine, he can’t pay the fine. However, by so doing, even if he gets suspended, he will come out of the situation with martyr-like status.
And further, he has an out that will likely wind up providing the ultimate resolution. Joe Gibbs Racing and its backers, FedEx and Toyota, are not going to like the idea of their driver being suspended. It would seem probable that one of those entities will eventually pay his fine for him and thus relieve him of his own claim.
In the end, NASCAR has once again fallen victim to its own misguided public relations efforts. The organization seems to always find a way to make itself look like it’s in the wrong. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin is coming off as a hero to those who have longed for someone to stand against the Daytona Beach based ruling body.
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