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Hamlin Explains Drivers Council Defense Of Stewart

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 22 2016
Denny Hamlin spoke out in Richmond on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

Denny Hamlin spoke out in Richmond on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

With hours of NASCAR’s decision Thursday to fine Sprint Cup driver/team co-owner Tony Stewart $35,000 for issuing strong opinions on the series’ policy on lugnut use, the NASCAR drivers council stepped forward and said it would help pay Stewart’s fine.

Acting as spokesperson for the Council – a nine-member panel representing driver interests – on Thursday was Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin.

On Friday at Richmond International Raceway, site of Sunday’s Cup race, Hamlin met with the media to answer questions. Among questions asked were several about the drivers council and the Stewart affair.

The following is a transcript of that portion of the press conference dealing with the drivers council and Stewart:

Question: Why did the driver’s council make the statement supporting Tony Stewart’s comments?

Hamlin: “I think it kind of shows a unity amongst us. It really has nothing to do with lug nuts or no lug nuts or anything like that, it’s more so the drivers believing that they have a right to express their opinion especially when asked in an interview. We try to do our best to give honest answers and sometimes those aren’t always the best thing. I know at times I’ve been very guilty of being too honest at times or too opinionated at times and it costs you a nickel or two. We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone that knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport a long time. He gave his opinion and especially when it’s something on safety too. I think it’s pretty important. As far as what we believe, it’s all said in the statement. Everything I’m telling you here is my opinion and my opinion only.”

Q: Where is the line when it comes to comments from drivers?

Hamlin: “I don’t know where the line is, I don’t know if there is a line – obviously there is a line, but obviously we just believe that you should be able to express your opinion as long as you’re not just totally trashing the sport itself or anything like that. I think every situation is different, but we’ll just move forward from it.”

Q: What does it mean to the sport for Tony Stewart to be back in the car this weekend?

Hamlin: “It’s good. This is a retirement season for him and it was a little bit delayed, but he’s now going to be going to some of these race tracks for eth final time and I know just in general Tony has been around and traveling each week to the race tracks and been very hands on with his race team. It doesn’t match being able to go out there and race with him. I know it’s all special memories for us to be able to go out there and compete with him. I know me coming into the Cup Series and being a teammate of his in my rookie season was awesome, but our relationship has grown so much further now that we’re not teammates. It’s a great season — would love to see him make a Chase push if he can and end on a good note.”

Q: How has the driver’s council evolved and what is the direction of the council overall?

Hamlin: “I think that the driver’s interests and the owner’s interests is 95 percent aligned most of the time. There’s some things that we feel like we would like to see changed, sometimes it doesn’t align with what NASCAR thinks or what the teams think, but I think that this was a pretty black and white thing from a driver’s perspective to have a guy that’s coming back and is in the middle of an interview and gets asked a question and he responds to the question and gets fined for it. That to us was a moment and I think for us it just shows solidarity that we’re all in this together as the drivers and we want to have one voice because that one voice is obviously a little louder and clearer to NASCAR when we go into meetings talking about where it’s going to head from competition to safety and amongst other things. I think that its grown a lot over the last year and our communication as drivers, the barriers that we have, those have been broken down tremendously over the last year to two. Our meetings with NASCAR have changed the sport and will continue to change the sport for many years. Mostly it’s all positive, every now and then we feel like we should show solidarity to a guy whose done a lot for the sport and we still don’t want to be so politically correct all the time and have to filter our thoughts and think about it because we have sponsors on our cars or owners we have to answer to or NASCAR, sometimes you just want to say what you feel and we feel like you should be able to do that at times.”

Q: How did the discussion come about to pay Tony Stewart’s fine?

Hamlin: “I think it’s more of a council thing. Obviously we chat on a daily basis about issues within our sport or things we’d like to work on or change or stay the same. When Tony (Stewart) informed us of the fine, we didn’t agree with it and no one agreed with it and we thought there was something we should do about it. This was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR, not that we were trying to send any specific message that we just believe that we should have the right to speak our opinion. I don’t know whether everyone agrees with the opinion he had or not, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what he was asked so he answered the question. I think that was the biggest thing for us. We should have the right to speak our opinion.”

Q: Have you heard from the series about the statement yet?

Hamlin: “Nothing from the series at all, but I’m sure we’ll all hear something at some point.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 22 2016
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