That's Racin Magazine

Others Said Worse, And Didn’t Get Fined

- For
Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2013
Tom Higgins

Tom Higgins.

It ranks high among the most scathing rants in NASCAR history.

Paraphrased slightly, here it is:

“They’ve taken the racing out of the drivers’ and crews’ hands. They’ve just killed racing at Daytona. This is the sorriest racing I’ve ever seen.

“Bill France, Sr., would be turning over in his grave if he could see this.”

The fellow venting at the Daytona 500 in 2000 was Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the seven-time Cup Series champion.

Best I recall, Earnhardt was neither fined nor even reprimanded by NASCAR’s hierarchy for his brutally frank outburst.

Now, compare Earnhardt’s blast to what Denny Hamlin said in answering a reporter’s question about the ballyhooed Gen6 car following a race Sunday at Phoenix:

“I don’t want to be the 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.”

For this relatively innocuous, honest assessment of this season’s new car, NASCAR has fined Hamlin $25,000.

His transgression?

The dreaded “actions detrimental to stock car racing.’

This can be defined by officials as anything they want it to be.

It’s a dodge ever bit as all-encompassing as that little fine print disclaimer marked by an asterisk at the end of the NASCAR rule book: “*Except in rare instances.”

Through the years this has been known as “EIRI” and essentially also means NASCAR can make any ruling it wishes.

But I digress…

The penalty slapped on Hamlin smacks of overkill, and of NASCAR’s brass being overly sensitive about criticism of the Generation 6 car, which it hailed as the thing that would rekindle fans’ interest in the sport.

Hamlin is vowing not to pay the fine, even if he is suspended. And he has the backing of his influential, widely-respected team owner, three-time winning Super Bowl coach Joe Gibbs.

Fans overwhelmingly are supporting Hamlin.

Not surprising since others, in addition to Earnhardt, have spoken their mind in criticism of NASCAR and its speedways without being penalized.

Some examples:

In the 1970s, the gentlemanly, seldom-critical Benny Parsons campaigned for changes to the high-banked 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. After experiencing many multi-car crashes at the Alabama layout, Parsons said, “Knock down those high banks and turn this dangerous place into a 2-mile track.”

Kyle Petty disliked Darlington Raceway so much that he said openings to the infield should be sealed and the place flooded with water. “It would make a great lake,” said Kyle.

Cup Series champions Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip routinely and loudly blasted the 500-mile length of races at Dover, Pocono and N.C. Motor Speedway.

None of them heared a peep from NASCAR.

Ricky Rudd once insinuated that officials played favorites in their rulings. Rudd was embroiled in a dispute with Kyle Petty, son of Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup champion and winner of 200 races. NASCAR sided with Kyle.

“This proves that you don’t mess with ‘The Prince’ in The King’s country,” cracked Rudd.

There was no penalty.

I could go on and on and on with a list of seeming transgressions far greater than that of Hamlin which drew no fine or warning or any response whatsoever.

So how does NASCAR get out of this public relations mess it has created for itself?

Hamlin is appealing.

His appeal will be heard by a three-person panel chosen by NASCAR from among a group of people associated with the sport.

The panel supposedly is impartial.

Realistically, though, the sanctioning body holds some sway.

So NASCAR has two hopes:

Hamlin gets a favorable ruling…And the Gen6 car starts performing better.