CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — What a great NASCAR race that was at Las Vegas! The new Gen-6 car sure put on an amazing show, one for the ages, for sure.
That's the kind of effusive praise we should expect to hear from drivers the rest of the year, right?
Anything short of that could lead to another shut-up-and-drive fine like the one levied last week against Denny Hamlin, who was popped for $25,000 for having the audacity to give an honest answer when asked to assess NASCAR's new car after its second race.
Hamlin is digging in his heels for this fight, though, saying he'll be suspended before he'll pay the fine. In reality, he'll first go through an appeals process, and if NASCAR is smart, it will quietly make this whole mess go away.
NASCAR claims Hamlin committed one of those heinous "actions detrimental to stock car racing" when he politely summed up the afternoon at Phoenix with this scathing assessment: "I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning."
Many fans remember what the generation five — known as the "Car of Tomorrow" — was at the beginning because Kyle Busch notoriously trashed it in Victory Lane after winning its debut race. Not wanting this new car to gain the same reputation, NASCAR apparently took a strong stand against Hamlin because it will not permit its drivers to "denigrate the racing product."
Only Hamlin wasn't trashing the racing, or the new car. He was asked for his opinion about the performance of the car after two races — and he told the truth.
Now he's been punished by a hypersensitive NASCAR that likely did more harm than good with the fine.
Why? Because in overpolicing the brand, NASCAR offended its fan base. People who never rooted for Hamlin before now firmly back the driver and his right to speak his mind. Hamlin was, after all, only saying what they were all thinking.
Everyone can understand that NASCAR is trying to avoid a repeat of the disastrous CoT. It never had a chance after Busch's tongue-lashing, and NASCAR spent all of last season developing the Gen-6 car to put the CoT out to pasture once and for all.
Only Busch didn't ruin the CoT for fans. They didn't need a driver to tell them the car was ugly or drove like a milk truck. They had eyes. They could see for themselves they hated everything about the car, including the on-track racing.
Now there's a new car this season, with a finely tuned marketing strategy and a serious messaging plan.