Could Hamlin Be Immersed In More Hot Water?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Could Denny Hamlin be headed for more trouble with NASCAR officials as a result of a statement he made on Friday at Auto Club Speedway?
The statement was, after all, as potentially damaging to Sprint Cup’s Gen-6 car public relations campaign as was the statement which resulted in Hamlin being issued a $25,000 fine earlier this season.
Hamlin’s statement at Auto Club, site of Sunday’s Cup race, came in response to this question: Does anything from last year transfer to the 2013 cars?
Hamlin answered, “These cars have different bodies on them. They’re the same race cars we’ve been racing for a really long time. So, everything is pretty much correlated.”
So, disparaging or not disparaging? That is the question these days.
That statement made a significant point: The new Gen-6 cars are not really all that new. They just have new wrappers.
That chassis – that is, the internal framework of cars – are virtually the same as those of the COT vehicles which the Cup series has used for the past several years.
This weekend, for example: Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing will be using chassis No. 14-708, which debuted in May 2012 in the Southern 500 at Darlington; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Roush Fenway Racing will be using chassis RK-815, which last ran at Martinsville in 2012 and finished 18th as the #99 car; Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing will use chassis No. 378, which last ran during the 2012 season-finale event at Homestead.
Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip started the weekend in Fontana with chassis No. 758. It’s the first new 2013 Gen6 specific chassis to be raced by MWR. But, his backup-car’s chassis (No. 724) raced to top-five finishes at Bristol (fourth) in March and Dover (fifth) in June.
Heading into – and then proceeding with – the 2013 season, NASCAR made a big point of putting the Gen-6 cars out front. The new Toyotas and Chevrolets and Fords were being touted as big, huge, major stars.
NASCAR, its teams and drivers, its manufacturers and its media partners all hammered away at the supposition that the new cars would solve some of the problems which many think have eroded the sport’s popularity over the last several years.
The two announced purposes of the Gen-6 vehicles were: re-establish brand identity among the automotive manufacturers and, provide competitive upgrades in an effort to improve competition in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
The new cars do indeed look more like the Camrys, Fusions and SSs that can be bought in showrooms. At least when they are standing still, viewed by holding a hand over one eye in order to block out the tall rear spoilers, and from a distance that does not betray the fact that things such as lights and grill openings are still decals.
But improve competition? Not so much, especially in the first three races of the season which were at Daytona’s superspeedway, Phoenix’s short track and Las Vegas’ intermediate track.
It was after Phoenix and a race which featured very little passing for the lead and long single-file lines of cars, that Hamlin spoke up.
“I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars,” Hamlin said in a postrace interview on pit road. “This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right.
“Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there.”
A couple days later, NASCAR issued the fine and this explanation:
“Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”
NASCAR had two great hopes for reviving the interest in the sport which had, over the last seven years or so, began to fade: Danica Patrick becoming a full-time Cup driver, and the Gen-6 vehicles.
TV ratings did go up dramatically for the first races of the 2013 season.
But it remains to be seen if those advances can be maintained as Patrick’s on-track performances have been dismal (except in the odd-ball Daytona race) and the racing has been boring (except at Bristol last weekend where, behind winner Kasey Kahne, the racing was absolutely terrific).
Now it remains to be seen how/if NASCAR will react to Hamlin coming right out and saying the new cars are, basically, the old cars.
The hope here is that NASCAR will react to the new comments the way it should have reacted to the Phoenix comments: Take them not as “disparaging”, but as constructive criticism in a sport whose fans have traditionall been among the most savvy in all of the sporting world.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments