Denny Hamlin rustled NASCAR’s feathers after the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 3 when he didn’t give a glowing review of the new Gen-6 race car. As a result, NASCAR slapped Hamlin with a $25,000 fine and Hamlin publicly said he wasn’t paying. The two parties have since resolved the matter. At Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, Hamlin talked about the issue and its conclusion. Here’s what he had to say:
How do you feel about having this incident concluded?
“The biggest thing is I think that we won in the judge of the people and their opinion I think some of the peers of mine — at least the ones that have a backbone had the nerve to stick up for what they know is right and wrong — agreed. But what was the point in going another week or so. We’ve got bigger fish to fry than to argue over what I said just for $25,000 and it’s better just to move on and let NASCAR get its credibility back and they’re going to do that and I’m going to move on and just focus on a championship.”
Is this something that Joe Gibbs helped to mediate?
“No, (Joe) Gibbs (team owner, Joe Gibbs Racing) really supported — whatever I wanted to do, he was fine with it. Ultimately, I had some conversations with Brian France (NASCAR CEO) and we had a lot of the same ideas. And I think that in hindsight I really believe they (NASCAR) overreacted and I believe that they think they overreacted once they thought about it a little bit, but now we’re at a point that we’re good with each other and we’re just going to move on from here.”
Did Brian France say that NASCAR overreacted?
“What exactly the things that we said we’ve got to keep between us for the sake of my relationship with them, but I definitely feel like we were on the same page when I left the hauler.”
Were you concerned this might impact your team?
“Yeah, I mean that ultimately plays into any decision. It’s really — to keep it going on and go through an appeal just to prove that I’m right, I don’t need to prove it. I just feel like everyone knows that we were right and I can give you a hundred interviews that we were way worse than mine through the last few seasons that nobody said anything about. They (NASCAR) were very, very sensitive about this car. This is their baby. What I was most frustrated with was it’s not even the opinion I have — I like the car. I think the car is better. That’s me giving the 100 percent honest truth. I was more frustrated with the tire that we were on than anything, so that’s the part that frustrated me is it put me on an island feeling like I was bashing the race car, which was definitely not how I felt.”
Did you drop the appeal once you knew they wouldn’t suspend you?
“I was prepared either way, honestly. They (NASCAR) are ultimately not going to want to suspend — that would be their last resort. I was prepared to do it and I let my sponsors and everyone know that it’s a possibility, so everyone was behind me to do whatever I wanted to do. But, ultimately after talking with NASCAR and (Joe) Gibbs (team owner, Joe Gibbs Racing) and everyone and really thinking about it more, it just needed to end. I didn’t need to prove anyone wrong. It was just — it needed to end and just move on from this point. By me saying I was not going to hand them the check and I was not going to give them anything, it was then in their court to decide what they wanted to do to ensue the fine.”
Are you disappointed that more drivers didn’t speak out in your favor?
“Everyone wants to stay on NASCAR’s good side and so that ultimately plays a lot of what you hear in interviews — 90 percent of what you hear on a weekly basis is just guys that are trying to stay on NASCAR’s good side. There’s very few that really give the honest and true truth.”
Did you learn a lesson in this situation?
“I think so. I think that I definitely could have handled things differently. If I had a frustration, I feel like I could have went in the hauler. I really thought my comments were very, very casual and very, very small in the grand scheme of things. Really no one even knew about it until it got brought to light. Definitely, I think from this point forward I will be voicing my opinions to John (Darby, NASCAR managing director of competition/NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director), Mike (Helton, NASCAR president) and all them on what we need to do to make it better. Ultimately, I knew they were sensitive I just didn’t know they were that sensitive.”
Did NASCAR tell you if they were going to take the fine out of your winnings?
“They haven’t told me anything as far as that’s concerned. I just told them what I was going to do and they released a statement based off of that.”
Will you answer questions about competition with your honest opinion moving forward?
“I don’t know. I will have to really, honestly think about that. I think as long as I can give 100 percent honest answer and not get in trouble then I will answer the question. If I know my answer could have repercussions, I will just refer to no comment.”
Did you see the statement from NASCAR before it was released?
“No, I didn’t see it before. They saw mine, but I didn’t see theirs.”
Will Joe Gibbs take the money from your salary?
“That’s a good question and I will guess that I will look at my pay statement and find out.”
Will this impact you moving forward on the race track?
“Probably it really won’t affect anything as far as my season. I think that after my conversations with NASCAR, we are of the same opinion of what happened. I’m in their good graces. I feel good about them, they feel alright about me. I think it should be smooth sailing from here on out. I don’t think it will affect anything on the race track.”
Did your conversation with Brian France end with you feeling you could talk to him?
“That was the biggest complaint I had was that if I was Jeff Gordon, Tony (Stewart), Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. or any Hendrick (Motorsports) driver — let’s just say that — they would have had a conversation with me before. Just to slap the fine on me and not tell me anything is what really, really bugged me a lot. That felt like I had not earned my place in this sport and I’ve grinded it out here for eight years and I really feel like I’ve done what it takes to earn the respect of both my peers and NASCAR and I felt like if I had been somebody else the outcome may have been different.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR