A new tone is being heard by NASCAR drivers and owners this week.
NASCAR officials are cracking down on the opinions and comments made by drivers. Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver Denny Hamlin was fined $25,000 for voicing his opinion about the "Generation 6" car last week after his third-place finish at Phoenix.
Hamlin compared the new car that debuted in the Sprint Cup Series this season to the first-generation "Car of Tomorrow." Hamlin was fined for words that "denigrate the racing product."
Hamlin said on Thursday that he refuses to pay the fine. "Ultimately, I'm not OK with it," Hamlin said of the penalty. "This is the most upset and angry I've been about anything in a really, really long time - anything that relates to NASCAR. The truth is what the truth is and I don't believe in this; I'm never going to believe in it. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point."
Hamlin and JGR will appeal the fine, while Hamlin and his team will carry on with business as usual until the appeal has been heard and ruled on.
NASCAR officials want drivers to handle themselves professionally, but this new tone has other drivers watching their comments. Owners are now issuing statements through public relations personnel.
The old statement "boys have at it" is being replaced with keep quiet and drive. Faithful fans want to hear opinions and comments from their favorite drivers to better understand how their car and teams are dealing with the new "Gen 6" car and track conditions.
The new car is making its debut on the cookie-cutter (1.5 mile) tracks, with this week's stop in Las Vegas. The performance opinion by crew chiefs and drivers should be heard to fully comprehend how the car is performing. NASCAR has said the new car was designed for fans, but if fans cannot drive the cars, their only way to understand the nuisances are the comments made by the participants in the sport. One issue NASCAR should look into is the groove being used by drivers at the cookie-cutter tracks. Most tracks have one competitive line for top performance. The highline must be ground in by competition to make it viable to use. I pose that officials to create a two-groove line for drivers to use at the start of practice to better enhance the competition factor for the sport.
Most of the tracks maintain a single line to inhibit conga line-type of racing. This form of racing puts the faithful fan to sleep. Fans want action to watch, not a merry-go-round of cars each week.
NASCAR needs to listen to drivers, owners and fans to make its product better in today's market.
Eddie Thomas is a sports copy editor at the Parkersburg News & Sentinel.