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The Backstretch Blog: Fight the Power

Auto RacingStock Car RacingDenny HamlinKyle BuschJeff GordonJimmie JohnsonFedEx Corporation

If you are a hardcore race fan, then have probably heard by now that NASCAR fined driver Denny Hamlin $25,000 on Thursday for criticizing the new car.

Hamlin was asked after Sunday's race at Phoenix how he liked the car, and he answered that he didn't want to be a "pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning."

In a statement released with the penalty announcement, NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharpe said in part, "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.”

What I don't get is, doesn't it help NASCAR if drivers are honest about what is going on out on the track? Doesn't it help competition? Plus, how many flying brick comments did we hear when the Generation 5 car first hit the track? Why where none of those drivers fined?

This is not the first time Hamlin has been fined for speaking out against NASCAR. In 2010, he was slapped with a $50,000 penalty for speaking out against "phantom debris cautions" on twitter.

Which is why I find it to be poetic that, after the announcement of the fine, Hamlin released a little statement of his own via twitter:

"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."

Here is my bottom line on this. NASCAR is a business. They can run it anyway they want. And if they want to fine drivers for saying bad things about the cars, it is certainly with in their power. But that doesn't mean the drivers have to sit their and quietly take it, and it certainly does mean that I as a fan have to like it.

NASCAR provides the show, but the drivers...for lack of a better the product. There are fans that like clean cut company men that toe the line, like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. And there are fans that like pot stirrers who keep it all interesting like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. For me one without the other is boring and NASCAR already fights that reputation at times.

The real loser here is the fans. Just like in the wake of the Twitter fine when Hamlin went from one of the most open and engaing drivers when it comes to interaction with the fans, it appears he will now go down that road in regard to how he interacts with the media.

"I'll be honest, I'm not going to say anything the rest of the year ... as long as it relates to competition," Hamlin told reporter at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday. "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."


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Auto RacingStock Car RacingDenny HamlinKyle BuschJeff GordonJimmie JohnsonFedEx Corporation