CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What a great NASCAR race that was at Las Vegas! The new Gen-6 car sure put on an amazing show!
That’s the kind of effusive praise we should expect to hear from drivers the rest of the year, right?
Anything short of that could lead to another shut-up-and-drive fine like the one levied last week against Denny Hamlin, who was popped for $25,000 for giving an honest answer when asked to assess NASCAR’s new car after its second race.
Hamlin is digging in his heels, saying he’ll be suspended before he’ll pay the fine. In reality, he’ll first go through an appeals process, and if NASCAR is smart, it will quietly make the whole mess go away.
NASCAR claims Hamlin committed one of those heinous “actions detrimental to stock car racing” when he summed up the afternoon at Phoenix with this scathing assessment: “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.”
Kyle Busch notoriously trashed the generation five – known as the “Car of Tomorrow” – after winning its debut race.
However, Hamlin wasn’t trashing the racing or the new car. He was asked for his opinion about the performance of the car after two races – and he told the truth.
Now he’s been punished by a hypersensitive NASCAR that likely did more harm than good with the fine.
Everyone can understand that NASCAR is trying to avoid a repeat of the disastrous CoT. It never had a chance after Busch’s tongue-lashing.
However, Busch didn’t ruin the CoT for fans. They didn’t need a driver to tell them the car was ugly or drove like a milk truck. They had eyes.
Now there’s a new car, with a finely tuned marketing strategy and a serious messaging plan. Straying from the script, as Hamlin learned, won’t be tolerated by NASCAR. Nor will taking the fans for idiots.
The backlash against NASCAR over Hamlin’s fine included signs of “Free Denny” at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Fans watched the same races Hamlin did to start the season. They saw the Daytona 500 was mostly a single-file parade until the late push to the checkered flag, and the race at Phoenix a week later had 445 fewer green-flag passes than November’s race there with the old car.
The fans also remember what NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in January when asked how success will be measured with the Gen-6 car.
“I think we’ll measure it by lead changes, we’ll measure it by how it races, we’ll measure it by how the drivers feel about it,” France said.
We know how Hamlin felt about it, and he got his hand slapped. So how in the world will anyone believe anything the drivers say going forward? Why would they dare say anything even borderline critical?
Hamlin’s comment was fairly mild. All he said was the car in its present form needs more work, that after two races it’s not as good as where the old car was after six years.
Well, no kidding. The Gen-6 has been overhyped from the beginning, and NASCAR has backed itself into a corner by essentially guaranteeing the racing will be better this year.
It’s all a work in progress, and it should be noted that the third race for the new car was better than the first two.
Fans don’t need the drivers to tell them things are great if they aren’t, and, as NASCAR learned, they’ll quickly resent being force-fed anything but the cold, hard truth.