Denny Hamlin: Crosses NASCAR’s line and earns $25,000 fine

Who's at fault in the latest NASCAR drama? Hamlin for speaking critically about the Gen 6 car or NASCAR for demanding wholesale allegiance? Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013 — In racing news, Denny Hamlin, the 32-year old American NASCAR racer considered a superstar by many racing fans, made a mistake last weekend. No, he didn’t tap the brakes, bump a competitor or pass on a yellow flag. Instead, he answered honestly when asked about the new Generation 6 car, the sport’s next greatest thing.

“I don’t want to be the pessimist,” Hamlin said about his #11 Toyota said after the Phoenix race, “but it did not race as good as our Generation-5 cars. This is more like what the Generation-5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single file, and you cannot get around the guy in front of you.”

Later, he also said, “I hate to be ‘Denny-downer,’ but I just didn’t pass that many cars today. That’s the realistic fact of it.”

NASCAR officials used the nebulous Section 12-1 prohibiting “actions detrimental to stock car racing” to justify Hamlin’s fine. Although they didn’t reveal exactly which of Hamlin’s words violated the rule, it’s clear they feel he did something wrong. $25,000 worth of something, to be exact.

On the surface, Hamlin’s remarks could be compared to a football player saying, “I don’t think these new helmets fit right yet.” Or, a golfer saying, “These new graphite shafts don’t allow for as much distance off the tee.”

The NASCAR car is integral to the sport, a piece of equipment that not only defines the endeavor, but also has a great deal to do with determining an outcome. But just like an athlete still needs to be a good football player or golfer to succeed, a driver still has to be a good driver regardless of what car he’s driving. Hamlin’s stats indicate that he is a top-notch driver.

But what’s under the surface of all this drama over what seems like a minor criticism of new equipment? Chris Riley, a Michigan native and NASCAR fan for over 30 years, thinks he knows: “Anybody that’s been watching NASCAR for any length of time can tell you that the new car isn’t racing very well yet.

“I’m sure it will eventually, but for now it needs work. NASCAR as a sanctioning body is very protective of its ‘brand.’ They’ve suffered some losses in spectator gate and television revenues over the last few years and they basically have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy about anybody that criticizes the on-track product or the sanctioning body itself.”

Another NASCAR fan, Craig Hassis, who lives in California and follows the sport closely, said, “I understand protecting the business. I just don’t agree on their [NASCAR’s] selective nature on who gets fined and why. Other drivers have said the racing and the cars need work, too”

Maybe not so publicly, though.

Imbalanced relationships, whether they are between partners, friends, employers/employees, or coaches/mentees, are far more detrimental than the perceived loss of power a more equalized relationship would create.

The CHILL Manager program, a sportsmanship education and training system, identifies bullying as a direct cause of poor sportsmanship (entities attempting to maintain control) and also one of the most damaging effects of it (trickle-down abuse, unhealthy cultural norms, declining sport/activity participation).

In this case, by citing Hamlin for poor sportsmanship, NASCAR’s system of damage- and reputation-control appears to have had the opposite effect. Rather than keeping Hamlin on-script, the fine has galvanized at least one driver (Hamlin) to publicly buck the system. 

From Hamlin’s Twitter feed: “…I believe 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….I am a person that worked very hard from the BOTTOM to get where I am today and someone telling me that I can[‘t] [sic] give my 100 percent honest opinion really bothers me….

“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.”

So what came first? Did “bullying” by the organization (to keep mum about the Gen 6’s current limitations) cause Hamlin’s poor sportsmanship or did Hamlin’s attempt to control his freedom of expression cause NASCAR’s?

Sportsmanship in the real world includes honor among teammates, respect for coaches and mentors and respect for opponents. Sportsmanship is about creating and maintaining a positive relationship between all participants in a sport. But no organization is immune from poor sportsmanship, and ultimately bullying, from the top down, especially if no one challenges the negativity.

At least one thing Hamlin said holds a universal truth. This goes much deeper than a mildly critical statement about a brand new product (Windows 8, anyone?). This situation speaks to an imbalance in a sport that relies on balance to succeed.

What are your thoughts about the Hamlin fine? Leave your comments below.

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Jenni McNamara

With over ten years’ experience in the youth sports as a parent, coach, administrator, and fan, Jenni McNamara has seen how good sportsmanship can positively affect kids and families, but also how poor sportsmanship can have a devastating impact on their physical and emotional health.

As a volunteer with USLacrosse, first on its Youth Council and now on its Board Development Committee, Jenni has seen a national trend toward integrating sportsmanship into activities at the youngest ages. Her company, CHILL Manager ™, provides tools for organizations looking to enhance their sportsmanship efforts.

She writes a blog on sportsmanship at and her training information can be found on her website:


Contact Jenni McNamara


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