Hamlin not afraid to steer into controversy
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
Along with his successes on Sprint Cup race tracks this year, Denny Hamlin also stands out because he has become one of the few drivers who doesn’t mind speaking his mind.
And even though his outspokenness over NASCAR’s alleged use of “debris” cautions to liven up races has cost him a $50,000 fine from series officials, he weighed in heavily about Clint Bowyer’s penalty for an illegal car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, something most other top drivers declined to do in detail.
During his weekly media session at Dover International Speedway last Friday, Hamlin offered his insight on the situation that led to Bowyer being docked 150 points, which dropped him from second in the standings to 12th. And his comments likely weren’t what NASCAR officials wanted to hear. They also didn’t go over well with Bowyer’s teammate Kevin Harvick, who bumped into Hamlin in practice then had a heated exchange with him afterward.
Hamlin started it off by saying there was a good reason his second-place car at New Hampshire passed the post-race technical inspection while Bowyer’s winning car did not.
“Our car came back and it was correct, but it wasn’t built incorrectly and … [Bowyer’s] car was built incorrectly,” Hamlin said, adding that the fact that the difference between a passing height and a failing height on Bowyer’s car was just 60 thousandths of an inch doesn’t mean it didn’t create a big advantage on the track.
“You can talk about how small the thing was off and you can really try to say that 60-thousandths didn’t help him perform any better … that is a crock,” Hamlin said. “Let me tell you something, that helps a lot.
“I know when we gain five points of downforce, our car runs a ton better …
“NASCAR has been very, very lenient, I feel like, on this car, and they’ve given those guys chances. … I think that [Bowyer’s team] should just be happy that they’re in the Chase at this point. They were warned and they were warned before Richmond. Everyone in the garage knows that. They’re the ones who wanted to press the issue and get all they could to make sure they got in the Chase.”
And Hamlin said the Bowyer car has been wrong for a lot longer than it might appear.
“In the garage, everyone has known it for months,” he said. “They’ve been warned for a long time, way before Richmond. … They wanted to get everything they could. What did they have to lose really? You almost can’t fault them for that.”
NASCAR apparently didn’t say anything to Hamlin about his comments, but an ESPN report indicates his team president, J.D. Gibbs, did tell Hamlin to tone it down.
For their parts, Bowyer and team owner Richard Childress continued to say their car was legal when it arrived at New Hampshire, and they say the reason it failed to pass inspection was that the car was damaged either during the race or when it was pushed to Victory Lane by a tow truck.
They’ll make their case in an appeal scheduled for Wednesday.
And Bowyer didn’t hold back when airing his thoughts on the issue, saying among other things that the NASCAR rumor mill forced series officials into issuing such a hefty penalty, one that he’ll find difficult to overcome.
He said that it makes no sense for a team that knows it’s under scrutiny to try to slip something past the inspectors.
“Who in their right mind, knowing that [inspectors] are going to take that car, wouldn’t have made triple sure that thing was right before it went to the race track?” he said, while also raising questions about the inspection process that officials used to check the car once it was taken back to Concord, N.C..
“They take the car apart, completely apart to measure this thing, and in my opinion that’s not the way the car was raced on the race track,” he said. “I think that’s something to be said.”