NASCAR slammed Denny Hamlin for Ross Chastain collision, and drivers had a lot to say

Kyle Busch offered a simple solution to the Denny Hamlin situation.

“Keep your mouth shut,” Busch said. “That simple.”

Busch said this at the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center in response to a question about the hefty penalty NASCAR handed Hamlin earlier this week: The sanctioning body ruled that the driver of the No. 11 Cup car was guilty of “attempting to manipulate the result of the race,” of “destroying or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result”—and of taking “actions that NASCAR considers detrimental to stock car racing.”

The action in question occurred towards the end of the Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway last weekend, when Hamlin slammed Ross Chastain into the fence in a corner to prevent the No. 1 car from finishing well. Hamlin finished 23rd; Chastain finished 24th.

No penalties were applied immediately after the race. Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, later said that “when you look at this last weekend, we look at it as a racing incident”.

But then Hamlin got on his podcast and explained that his run at Chastain was, in fact, intentional — a move intended to punctuate a two-season feud between Hamlin and Chastain — and NASCAR got involved from there.

The sanctioning body ended up fining Hamlin $50,000 and the loss of 25 driver points.

Hamlin initially expressed that he would not appeal NASCAR’s decision, but announced that he would go through the appeals process on friday. Why the change of heart? Hamlin didn’t exactly address that on Saturday.

“I was vaccinated against shingles,” Hamlin said in deadpan jest, his polarizing personality showing with pride.

Any other meaningful follow-up questions for Hamlin were answered with the same insight: “I have nothing to say,” he’d say, or “I can’t wait for Atlanta,” and so on.

Denny Hamlin wins stage two ahead of Kevin Harvick during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, February 14, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

That doesn’t mean other drivers don’t have a lot to say on the subject.

“I think those were easy answers,” said Kevin Harvick of NASCAR’s penalties imposed on Hamlin. “It’s like going to court and saying you’re guilty. I mean, it’s hard to answer differently when the confession is already guilty.

Harvick, 47, is the most veteran driver in the Cup Series garage and ranks among the best drivers of all time – and he has recently wielded that power to be the sport’s voice of reason.

Harvick acknowledged that he “did it all” in his younger, fiery years when it came to getting revenge on a driver who wrecked him – one of those unwritten but essential customs unique to NASCAR. But he also added that certain moves cross lines.

“I think on the driver’s side, you still have a lot of leeway. The things that are different in today’s world are SMT (Sports Media Technology) data and all the things that come with data,” said Harvick. “There will always be differing opinions, but I can say that wrecking people under caution and wrecking people on purpose in the state we are in with injury proneness and the way the car crashes still – those things to me just need to end.

He added: “We are the example. This is something we want to emphasize on the CARS Tour for our local and regional drivers. There are lines that can be crossed. And we are the example on Sunday of what is acceptable on Saturday night in your local short track.”

Christopher Bell, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, said he did not foresee Hamlin’s penalty coming.

“I was surprised that NASCAR penalized Denny because that happens a lot in our sport,” he said. “And he has never been penalized before. So I was surprised by that.”

Last year, NASCAR evaluated some penalties for race manipulation. Among the most prominent examples: the sanctioning body punished William Byron for wrecking Hamlin under caution and suspended Bubba Wallace a race for totaling Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Bell considered what Hamlin did and what Byron and Wallace did in 2022 to be completely different.

“I think under yellow it’s a completely different circumstance than under green,” Bell said. “I mean, it happens all the time, whether people meet on purpose or not, so I was surprised it was a penalty.”

Erik Jones (20) heads to the finish line to win the NASCAR Busch Clash auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, February 9, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Florida.  Denny Hamlin (11), who was a lap down, helped Jones with a push in Turn 4. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Erik Jones (20) heads to the finish line to win the NASCAR Busch Clash auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, February 9, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Florida. Denny Hamlin (11), who was a lap down, helped Jones with a push in Turn 4. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Chastain said he was initially angry at Hamlin’s move, but determined his best course of action was to get out of the car and talk to Hamlin after the race.

“I felt getting out of the car and talking to him was the best way to go about it,” Chastain said, adding, “What I learned from all of this was some mistakes I made that compounded and came together with a guy like him, it’s going to stay much larger than it probably should have.

Joey Logano considers the sinking of the Hamlin a “gray area type of call”, adding: “It’s good that I don’t have to make the call”. The driver of the No. 22 Cup car had his own run-ins with Chastain last year, but fixed all related issues well ahead of his run for the 2022 Cup Series championship in October.

Logano was asked whether Hamlin’s penalty will cause drivers to be incentivized to be a little dishonest in any post-race availability after regular retribution.

“I think you’re always smart about what you say, like right now, you’re putting me in a box here, trying to get me to say the wrong thing,” he said with a smile. “You have to be smart about what you say at any given time.”

Busch laid out his aforementioned advice to “keep your mouth shut” to Hamlin on Saturday. The driver of the No. 8 car and Hamlin’s former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate added: “That’s what Logano did when he wrecked me in 2017. That was on purpose, but he wouldn’t admit it.”

When asked how the sport should address drivers who intentionally crash into each other, Busch made an impassioned plea to all NASCAR drivers.

“We completely lost any sense of respect in the garage area between the drivers,” said Busch. “There’s the problem. It’s just that nobody gives a shit about anybody else, and it’s just a problem where everybody takes advantage of everybody else as much as they can. We’re all selfish, it’s true, but there was an etiquette that once existed here. Mark (Martin) started. I think Tony (Stewart) really lived that. I think Jeff (Gordan) lived for it. Bobby Lobante. Rusty (Wallace) for the most part. Dale Jarrett for sure. He existed and he was gone.”

Busch added: “It’s my fault, of course. I’m not taking the initiative to fix it and talk to all these younger drivers, although I’ve talked to probably 14 of them who’ve gone through KBM. Some of these guys did a relatively good job.

“And others, in one ear, out the other.”

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