Denny Hamlin Recently Called Out NASCAR for Frustrating Decisions, and Bubba Wallace Penalty Validates What He Had to Say
A month ago at Texas, Denny Hamlin wasn’t happy. He shouldn’t have been after what had just happened on the track with William Byron and the sanctioning body completely missing it. In the postrace interview, the three-time Daytona 500 winner addressed the incident with reporters and bluntly said NASCAR doesn’t care about precedents.
He was right. This week’s penalty on Hamlin’s 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace proved that on several different levels.
Denny Hamlin called out NASCAR at Texas
Denny Hamlin was understandably upset following last month’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. He had a fast car capable of winning. He was actually in position to win late, running second, when a caution came out. Moments after the yellow was put out, William Byron didn’t like how the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had raced him seconds before and bumped him under caution. Except the bump turned into a spin and the JGR car went sliding through the infield grass.
Incredibly, NASCAR officials in the tower somehow missed the incident (at least that’s what they said later), and Hamlin dropped back from second to 22nd. Byron maintained his position. The No. 11 car battled back through the field and finished 10th, three spots behind the HMS driver.
After the race, Hamlin met with reporters and was asked if NASCAR’s inaction on the incident with Byron set a precedent.
“I mentioned on the radio I should just get a teammate to knock out somebody under caution in the final four, if we were to make it,” Hamlin admitted. “Certainly, it’s a precedent, but I don’t think that NASCAR goes by precedents. I think they kind of do it week to week and figure it out from there.”
Precedents in the past
This week, precedent was an oft-used word after Bubba Wallace hooked Kyle Larson in the right rear at Las Vegas, sending the No. 5 car for a hard hit up into the outside wall. The 23XI Racing driver compounded the situation by walking across a hot track and confronting the driver with multiple shoves, before begrudgingly following a safety worker away from the scene.
Fans and media went back in history to see how NASCAR had responded in the past to similar on-track incidents. On the severe punishment end of the spectrum, or suspensions, there is a small sample size. Kyle Busch hooked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution during the Truck race at Texas in 2011 and missed that weekend’s Xfinity and Cup races.
Most recently, Matt Kenseth received a two-race suspension after intentionally wrecking Joey Logano in 2015.
NASCAR has responded to a couple of incidents this year, including Noah Gragson’s wrecking Sage Karam and causing a 13-car pileup during the Xfinity race at Road America, which earned the JR Motorsports driver a $35,000 fine and loss of 30 points.
And interestingly enough, NASCAR attempted to make up for its missed call at Texas between Byron and Hamlin by retroactively penalizing the HMS driver with a 25-point deduction and $50,000 fine. That was changed under appeal, and the points deduction was removed and fine increased to $100,000.
NASCAR admits it doesn’t do precedents as Hamlin suggested
If you’re trying to find some pattern of consistency, don’t. There isn’t one. This week NASCAR confirmed it’s not into precedents when Wallace received a one-race suspension. And it was solely for what he did in his car with Larson, not his post-incident actions of walking on the track and refusing to get in the ambulance.
“Our actions are really specific to what took place on the racetrack and when we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, a really dangerous act,” NASCAR Steve O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the penalty announcement. “We thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk. And as we look at the sport and where we are today and where we want to draw that line going forward, we thought that definitely crossed the line and that’s what we focused on in terms of making this call.”
O’Donnell said something else later in that interview that had to make Denny Hamlin smile.
“I know fans and people like to compare the whatifs or what happened in the past,” he said. “For us, this was a reaction based on what took place Sunday and what we don’t want to see going forward in races that take place from the competitors. And want to draw that line and be as clear as we can for our competitors of where we stand.”
There you have it. A top NASCAR executive bluntly admits the governing body is not into precedents. And that’s why drivers, like Hamlin, and fans can expect the same frustrating scattershot approach on rulings to continue in the future.
Have thoughts on this topic? Keep the conversation rolling in our comments section below.