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Despite what Denny Hamlin haters might suggest, he’s not an idiot. He’s proven to have sharp business acumen. Look no further than 23XI Racing. In just a few years, the 42-year-old driver — with the support of co-owner Michael Jordan — has built a race team that regularly contends for Cup Series wins. That doesn’t happen by accident.

So this week, when the three-time Daytona 500 winner candidly admitted on his podcast that he intentionally wrecked Ross Chastain over the weekend at Phoenix, he didn’t misspeak. Dale Earnhardt Jr. even suggested as much. Instead, Hamlin made a business decision, and the sanctioning body played right into his hand when it doled out its penalty. 

Denny Hamlin admits to intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain

Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain have been an entertaining sideshow in the Cup Series for the last two years. It started last year at Gateway and lasted for months. Hamlin supposedly got payback at Pocono, but that’s still up for debate.

This past weekend at Phoenix, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver rekindled the feud by running the Trackhouse Racing car into the wall in overtime, which dropped both cars multiple spots from where they should have finished. Everyone was confused about what sparked the incident. 

A day later, Hamlin cleared it up on his podcast.

“My crew chief told me there were 18 cars on the lead lap,” he said. “At that point, I said I’m probably running sixth or seventh, I’m about to get passed by everybody behind me who’s on fresh tires. I’m about to finish in the mid-teens. And I said, ‘You’re coming with me, buddy.'”

“Really?” podcast co-host Jared Allen asked.

“I did. It wasn’t a mistake,” the driver admitted. “No, it wasn’t a mistake. I let the wheel go, and I said he’s coming with me. It’s been interesting because I hear people say this is for last year. This is for that. It’s not. 

“I got wrecked at the Clash. I don’t know that Ross sees it that way. I think he’s still curious about what I thought about the Clash. I don’t know why he would wonder what I thought about the Clash. I’ve said for a while you’ve got to do something to get these guys attention.”

Hamlin looks like the victim to many

On Wednesday, NASCAR responded to Hamlin’s remarks by fining him $50,000 and docking him 25 driver points. The penalty falls in the same category as other drivers who’ve admitted intentionally doing something against NASCAR rules and paying for it later. 

Just last year, William Byron received a penalty from the sanctioning body after he wrecked, oddly enough, the No. 11 car during a caution at Texas and admitted to it after the race. 

“No, I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do,” Byron said. “Just meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure. Unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he’s spinning, I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to do this.’ But yeah, it was definitely frustrating.”

Byron was fined $50,000 and docked 25 points, just like Hamlin, but it was later changed on appeal. His monetary fine was increased to $100,000, while the points penalty was rescinded altogether.

However, there was a big difference between the two. The HMS driver acknowledged guilt right after the race while talking to reporters, as has been the case for other similar comments and resulting fines. Hamlin admitted guilt 24 hours later, thousands of miles away on a podcast. Almost an after-the-statute-of-limitations kind of feel.

Unsurprisingly, fans reacted to NASCAR’s decision on social media, with a large number defending Hamlin.  

“What’s the violation? Having a podcast?” questioned one fan.

“Penalizing a driver for something they said the next day; which y’all didn’t hear about until over 24hrs later is absurd,” another fan wrote.

In the end, to many, Hamlin looks like the victim. 

No such thing as bad publicity

In NASCAR’s penalty report, Denny Hamlin was cited for a couple of violations, including “manipulating the outcome of a race” and “actions by a NASCAR member that NASCAR finds to be detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.”

Fans who’ve listened to Hamlin’s podcast know its name – Actions Detrimental

He’s now a content creator. And the content he created this week may have cost him some points and a fine, but more importantly, it generated a ton of publicity (more than $50K worth) for his podcast. How many first-time listeners will check out his next episode, wondering — what’s he going to say next?  

All of it combined equals Hamlin playing four-dimensional chess while NASCAR is playing checkers. Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose Dirty Mo Media company hosts Hamlin’s podcast, thinks so. 

“He got on that podcast and admitted that because he’s got some plan, right,” Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download before the penalty was announced. “He’s got something, some plan on how this is going to work out in his head where he’s going with all of that.”

Hamlin has shown with consistency, just as he did with Chastain, that he does things with intentionality. Don’t think for one second that he didn’t think ahead about making those remarks and the consequences. He knew NASCAR could very well respond. They did.

Now, he looks like a victim and he’s got a lot more fans eagerly awaiting his next podcast episode. 

And none of it happened by accident. 

For the latest breaking news and information about NASCAR’s three national series, check out @kdsportswriter on Twitter.


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