Notes on Respect and Fines

A short note on Denny Hamlin’s comments on the Gen-6 car and subsequent fine.

I’ve talked to a lot of the people in the trenches involved in designing and creating the Gen-6 car.  That includes people from manufacturers and teams.  All of them have said that the development of the Gen-6 car is a major sea change for NASCAR.  This is the most collaborative that NASCAR has been with introducing a new car in some time.  Manufacturers and teams were consulted and they all feel that their opinions mattered and were taken into consideration.   This was a very, very different process than the COT introduction, which was designed by NASCAR and plans delivered to teams.

So when a driver talks trash about the Gen-6 car, they aren’t just talking trash about NASCAR – they’re insulting the people on their own team and their manufacturer, all of whom have been working collaboratively to make the best car possible.   NASCAR deserves some major accolades for opening up the process.  One team principal even declared it “a new business model where we are partners with NASCAR”.

Is the car perfect?

Heck, no.

But when did you ever do something and get it perfect the first time out?  I’ve said already that we’re going to have revisions throughout the year as we learn more about the car.  No one expected it would come out and be exactly right the first couple of weeks.

If drivers want to help with the tweaking, then they need to make constructive specific comments (like where and under what conditions they’re having problems passing) rather than blanket condemnation of the car and the process.

Having said that, I also disagree with NASCAR fining Hamlin.   I can see their point of view.  Changing corporate culture is a very, very hard thing to do.  NASCAR met the teams more than halfway.  They did a lot of the things people behind the scenes have been asking them to do for some time.   And then a driver comes out and slams the car in the most general, broad way possible.

I suspect it’s like parents who tell their kid he can come in a 9pm instead of 8pm and then the kid stays out till 10 pm.  For heavens’ sake — they were trying to do something nice and they got slapped in the face.  NASCAR is rightfully aggravated.

But I think most fans listened to his comments and thought the same thing as one caller to SiriusXM Speedway, who said

“Of course he’s complaining about the car.  He lost!”

We know drivers are frustrated when they get out of the car and often for some time afterward.  We know they say things that are not always tactful and are sometimes rather wrong-headed.  You don’t have to fine a driver to let us know that you think he or she was out of line.   Hamlin’s fine shifted the focus from racing to public relations.  And that’s not why most of us watch.


  1. I did not realize the varied input from all on the new car. I think this article explains things quite well. I agree with the conclusion in that NASCAR reacted to a fairly minor thing and it blew into An Incident. There was a better way to handle things with Denny. His criticism of the new car would have been muted after this last race in Las Vegas anyway because it was such a good race with passing and lead changes.

  2. I’m still riding the fence on the appropriateness of the fine, but I’m absolutely with NASCAR on the message they were wanting to deliver, even if the drivers/fans take a different message from it.

    The COT got a bad rap from the word go. And Kyle Busch opened his mouth and confirmed what that it was bad. Before that moment, fans could only complain about the look of the car. They had nothing to go on. Then the driver that did the most with the car says it’s garbage. NASCAR was never able to get from under the stigma that little statement of “this car sucks” placed on the series.

    Fast forward to Phoenix and the driver that arguably got the most out of the car, moving up 40 positions echoes Kyle Busch. He might have said it more kindly. It might have reverberated more gently but it was still an echo. The intensity of the echo might have been less, but the statement was the same. This car is like the Gen 5 car was at the beginning. The Gen 5 car that every fan remembers* Kyle Busch saying sucked. The Gen 5 car that if fans found something to like, it was probably that the finally took off that “stupid wing”. The Gen 5 car never became a car that the fans thought was any good. So when Denny says the Gen 6 is just like the Gen 5 was [at the beginning] he’s setting NASCAR up. He’s setting fans up. He’s telling them, most likely not on purpose, that this car is bad and don’t expect it to get better. NASCAR’s response was basically (1) how dare you do that after we caved to you guys and fans to move away from the COT. How dare (2) you put us in a position to have to climb the same PR battle with this car.

    Perhaps it should have been a closed door meeting with Denny. Would that have changed the aftermath? Would Denny have withheld telling the Twitterverse about the meeting? That had been the way this would have been handled in the pass, but a breach of that practice is what probably led us to this point where NASCAR publicizes this type of penalty and fine that they would have, in the past, kept between the team and the sanctioning body. The penalty and fine were (I think) intended to deliver a message loud and clear to all drivers: “You will not criticize this car in that way to the media and to the fans.” Unfortunately, there’s a lot of static in the line and the only part of the message the drivers and fans seem to be hearing is “you will not criticize the car.”


    *I heard so many of the people that cover the sport closely say they weren’t reminded of this comment when they heard Denny’s words. I was. I said to my wife, “He didn’t learn anything from Kyle.” And while I take those media folks at their word, I’m hard pressed to believe that the nation of fans that have not forgotten a single thing Kyle Busch has ever done wrong since leaving HMS, weren’t reminded of how he christened the Car of Tomorrow when they heard Denny’s words.

  3. I think it was a complete overreaction by NASCAR. Denny didn’t say the car sucks or that its piece of junk. He said it has a long way to go and it’s not what was expected. It was nothing like what Kyle said about CoT after his win. Not even close. It has only been 3 races, of course it has a long way to go to equal the same kind of knowledge that teams had on CoT. Talking crap goes right along with taking the gloves off between drivers, which NASCAR totally encourages. NASCAR wants the drivers to ruin their own reputations by turning up the heat between drivers but can’t take the heat themselves when it starts flying their way.

  4. The names that Tony called Joey after the race, in my opinion, should have cost Tony. Don’t have a problem with Tony going to Joeys’ car, but his language was pretty bad. And on national TV, to boot. Tony had his ass hanging out a mile on that one. I like Tony, but I lost a lot of respect for him.

    • Jack: I think NASCAR fining a driver for something gets the driver sympathy, whereas most of us had the same reaction to Tony’s comments about Joey that you did. I think drivers lose respect from the fans when they act like children and that’s probably more important than a monetary fine. Some drivers are just so good that they can get away with a lot, but we all have our lines as to where we stop respecting someone as a person, even if they are a heck of a driver. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I just found this blog and have added it to my reading list. A little rationality sure helps in a topsy-turvey world.

    On the lighter side of this subject of drivers spouting off, my experience with the professional road racing crowd led to to an observation that I still use today. The ones who go ballistic typically are just fine 15 minutes after exiting the car. Just like those who can’t handle their alcohol, I deducted these people just could not handle adrenaline combined with the fact they can’t hear a thing after exiting the car. So the high level of adrenaline makes the talk excitedly and the fact they can’t hear much above the buzzing in their ears, they have to yell to hear themselves talk. I had one particular driver that nobody wanted to be around when he got out of the car. So much so that the TV guys were to the point of picking straws to see who’s turn it was to be in the barrel.

    As I knew this driver on a personal level before a racing association, I saw the issue and when he would come out of the car and start yelling, my signal to him that he was doing it again was just to stop what I was doing and smile at him. The rest of the crew freaked out when they saw this but it did change his view a bit in addition to the reluctance of the reporters to seek him out for questions.

    I agree with the other posters that Hamlin was way out of line but it was further aggravated by the way that NASCAR handled it. My one other question, where was his PR person who is typically velcro’d to his side outside of the cars? I am also sure The Coach was not very amused with either of them.

    • Welcome Ron! I think you’re right about the ability to handle adrenaline varying — as does the maturity of different drivers. We call it ‘relaxation time’ – the time between when a driver gets out of a car and when they should be allowed to speak on the record. I don’t envy the PR people – they can only do so much with the drivers since the drivers usually have the ability to either get rid of them or make their lives extremely difficult. Thanks for commenting!

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