NASCAR slammed Denny Hamlin for colliding with Ross Chastain, and the drivers had a lot to say
Kyle Busch offered a no-fuss solution to Denny Hamlin’s predicament.
“Shut up,” Busch said. “As simple as that.”
Busch said this at the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center in response to a question regarding the hefty penalty NASCAR handed Hamlin earlier this week: The sanctioning body found that the driver of the No. 11 Cup car “attempted to win the result.” tampering with the race,” “destroying or rotating another vehicle, whether or not it renders that vehicle out of competition” — and “take any action NASCAR deems detrimental to stock car racing.”
The action in question happened late in the Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway last weekend when Hamlin rammed Ross Chastain into the fence on a corner to prevent the No. 1 car from getting a good finish. Hamlin was 23rd; Chastain finished 24th.
No penalty was imposed immediately after the race. Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, later said, “If you look at last weekend, we would have considered that a racing incident.”
But then Hamlin hopped on his podcast and explained that his run at Chastain was actually intentional — a move meant to underscore a beef between Hamlin and Chastain that now spans two seasons — and NASCAR got involved from there.
Sanctions Board eventually fined Hamlin $50,000 and forfeited 25 driver points.
Hamlin initially expressed that he would not appeal NASCAR’s decision, but announced so he would go through the appeals process on Friday. Why the change of heart? Hamlin didn’t exactly address it on Saturday.
“I got the shingles shot,” Hamlin said in a deadpan joke, his polarizing personality showing proudly.
All of Hamlin’s other meaningful follow-up questions were answered with the same insight: “I have nothing to say,” he said, or “Can’t wait for Atlanta,” and so on.
That doesn’t mean other riders didn’t have much 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 respond differently when the plea is already guilty.”
Harvick, 47, is the most experienced driver in the Cup Series garage and one of the best drivers of all time – and he’s recently wielded that power to be the voice of sanity in the sport.
Harvick acknowledged that in his younger, fiery years he “did anything” when it came to getting revenge on a driver for wrecking him – one of those unwritten but essential customs unique to NASCAR gives. But he also added that certain movements cross lines.
“I think there’s still a lot of room to maneuver from the driver’s side. The things that are different in today’s world are SMT (Sports Media Technology) data and all the things that come with the data side,” said Harvick. “There will always be differing opinions, but I can tell you that destroying people under caution and destroying people on purpose in the state that we are in is because we are vulnerable to injury and the way we do that Car keeps crashing – this stuff just has to end for me.”
He added: “We are the example. This is one thing we want to emphasize at the CARS Tour for our local, regional racers. There are lines that can be crossed. And we are the example on Sunday of what is acceptable on your local short haul route on Saturday night.”
Christopher Bell, Hamlin’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, said he didn’t see Hamlin’s penalty coming.
“I was surprised NASCAR penalized Denny because that’s a common thing in our sport,” he said. “And it has never been punished before. That surprised me.”
Just last year, NASCAR issued some penalties for race manipulation. Among the most prominent examples: Sanctions Board fined William Byron for cautiously destroying Hamlin and suspended Bubba Wallace from racing for totaling Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bell viewed what Hamlin was doing and what Byron and Wallace were doing in 2022 as completely different.
“I think under yellow is a completely different circumstance than under green,” Bell said. “I mean, that happens all the time when people meet, intentionally or not, so I was surprised it was a penalty.”
Chastain said he was initially upset with Hamlin’s move, but decided his best course of action was to get out of the car and talk to Hamlin after the race.
“I felt like getting out of the car and talking to him was the best way to do it,” Chastain said, adding, “What I learned from all of this was a few mistakes I made got together and teamed up with a guy like him, it’s going to be a lot bigger than it probably ever should have been.”
Joey Logano views the Hamlin wreck as a “grey area call,” adding, “It’s good I don’t have to make the call.” The driver of the No. 22 Cup car had his own altercation with Chastain last year, but fixed all related issues long before his run to the 2022 Cup Series Championship in October.
Logano was asked if Hamlin’s punishment will result in drivers being a little dishonest about their post-race availability after regular retaliation.
“I think you’re always smart about what you say, kind of like now you’re kind of putting me in a box here and trying to get me to say the wrong thing,” he said with a smile. “You have to be smart about what you say every moment.”
Busch detailed his aforementioned “shut up” advice to Hamlin on Saturday. The driver of the No. 8 car and Hamlin’s former Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate added: “That’s what Logano did when he crashed me in 2017. It was intentional, but he didn’t admit it.”
When asked how the sport should address drivers who intentionally collide with each other, Busch made an impassioned appeal to all NASCAR drivers.
“We completely lost the respect between the drivers in the garage area,” said Busch. “There lies the problem. It’s that no one gives a damn and it’s just a problem where everyone takes advantage of everyone else as best they can. We’re all selfish, admittedly, but there was an etiquette that once lived here. Mark (Martin) started it. I think Tony (Stewart) really lived by it. I think Jeff (Gordan) made a living from it. Bobby Lobante. Rusty (Wallace) for the most part. Definitely Dale Jarrett. It existed and it’s gone.”
Busch added: “Blame me, sure. I’m not taking the initiative to fix it and talk to all these younger drivers, although I’ve spoken to probably 14 of them who came through KBM. Some of these guys did a good job relatively speaking.
“And for others, it’s in one ear and out the other.”