CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin and NASCAR settled their censorship flap Thursday when he announced he would not appeal the $25,000 fine levied against him for criticizing the new Gen-6 car.
But Hamlin held his ground on refusing to pay the fine. NASCAR said the fine will be settled per the rule book, which allows the sanctioning body to garnish the money from a driver’s race winnings.
“Dragging myself, my team and NASCAR through the mud for the next 2 weeks would not be good for anyone,” Hamlin posted on Twitter. “I firmly believe I am in the right on this issue and will stand behind my decision not to pay. I understand NASCAR will do what they feel is necessary based on my decision.”
NASCAR does have the option to suspend Hamlin until he pays the fine, but said in its statement it considers the matter closed.
“There was open dialogue between NASCAR, Denny and his team this week and this was the resolution that came about,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.
It remains to be seen how fans of the series react.
The backlash against NASCAR was fast and furious when Hamlin was fined last week for criticizing the car after his third-place run at Phoenix. It was the second race for the new car, and Hamlin said, “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.”
Informed of the fine during a test at Las Vegas, Hamlin angrily said he would be suspended before he’d pay the $25,000.
Upon learning he could appeal the fine, he announced his intention to do so and Joe Gibbs Racing indicated it backed its driver.
The issue is a sensitive one for NASCAR, which spent the last year developing the Gen-6 car with heavy input from the manufacturers to improve the on-track product.
Drivers have been asked to be careful in how they publicly discuss the car, and NASCAR has put together a big marketing effort in an attempt to avoid the poor reception the previous model received.
Fans never warmed up to the “Car of Tomorrow” in part because drivers panned it from the very beginning.
Kyle Busch won the debut race in the “Car of Tomorrow” and then criticized it in Victory Lane.
Fans – even those who don’t root for Hamlin – rallied to his defense. At the track and on Twitter, fans complained that NASCAR had violated Hamlin’s right to free speech.
Now the matter has been suddenly closed as the series shifts to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday’s race, the fourth event for the new car.
“Denny is a championship-caliber driver and his fans and our sport look forward to him competing this weekend at Bristol. We all look forward to putting this matter behind us.”
Hamlin echoed that sentiment in his Twitter post.
“Thanks to all of my fans and peers who have supported me in this decision. I look forward to putting it to rest,” he said.