NASCAR ruled that Hamlin violated Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book with comments made immediately following a hard fought, third-place finish at PIR; comments that equated the new, Gen-6 race car to the much-maligned Car Of Tomorrow, criticized what he said was an overly hard left-side tire mandated by Goodyear and predicted that teams had “a lot of work to do” before the new machines become raceable.
In a written statement today, the sanctioning body said, “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.”
There is no question that Hamlin’s comments were – to quote an overused phrase – detrimental to stock car racing. He and his Sprint Cup Series brethren are absolutely the finest stock car drivers on the planet, but they are often exceedingly poor salesmen for the sport that has made them famous.
“The food in our restaurant tastes horrible,” they say with regularity. “But be sure to come in for Sunday dinner!”
Hamlin’s comparison of the Gen-6 car to the COT did a disservice to the sport Sunday. His assertion that it was difficult – if not impossible – to pass was unnecessarily negative, a fact proven by his own 43rd-to-third performance and the spellbinding, three-wide pass of both Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson he executed on the final lap.
Drivers who finish second (or worse) on Sunday afternoon frequently take a negative view of the world. That’s a fact of life in professional sports, and sanctioning bodies like NASCAR must understand that, and cut their competitors some slack. NASCAR failed to do so today, as is their right. Today’s sanction, however, may do as much damage than the comments that provoked it.
In the aftermath of today’s fine, drivers are unlikely to voice negative thoughts on NASCAR, its new car, or the weekly level of competition, ever again. Regardless of what happens on the race track from week to week, they will now feeling compelled – under the threat of monetary fine – to climb from their racers and quote the company line, telling the world that all is well and the racing has never been better.
From this day forward, fans will now have cause to distrust any positive comments made by their favorite driver. Effective immediately, any complimentary words uttered on behalf the Gen-6 car will be discounted, since there is no way to determine whether those thoughts were sincere, or made under duress.
Like Kyle Busch’s “this car sucks and it always will” diatribe following the first COT race a few years ago, Hamlin’s comments were misguided, premature and unnecessary. By Friday, they would likely have been relegated to the scrap heap of history, had NASCAR simply let things be.