Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have shown veteran leadership over the course of the last year, in particular, when addressing safety concerns with the Next Gen car. In recent weeks, that rhetoric intensified as drivers grew more frustrated from obvious problems with the car (multiple concussions) and NASCAR’s response, or lack thereof.
Both drivers have bluntly called out incompetence at the top. In the last few weeks, NASCAR leadership has done nothing to disprove those claims but only reinforced them. The past few days since the Charlotte Roval have been yet another embarrassing example.
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick mention problems at top of NASCAR
Since July 2021, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have expressed concerns about the Next Gen car and safety issues. Fast forward to last weekend’s race on the Charlotte Roval, and for the first time in 20 years, three drivers missed a race due to a previous on-track incident (Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman with concussions; Cody Ware a fractured ankle).
Before the race, NASCAR officials met with all the Cup drivers to discuss those safety concerns. That meeting was the culmination of more drivers speaking out in recent weeks, including Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Hamlin the week before at Talladega. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn’t hold back when asked why he believed the drivers were in this position.
“Bad leadership,” he said. Another reporter then asked what needs to be done to avoid something even more serious from happening in the future. “New leadership,” he curtly replied. When pressed on who he identifies as bad leadership, the driver elaborated. “You can just start at the top and you can work your way down.”
His pointed remarks directed at NASCAR leadership were similar to what Harvick said in early September after his car inexplicably caught on fire at Darlington. After complaining about “s***** parts,” the SHR driver was asked what will it take to change the situation.
“Find somebody who can run the show that can run it,” Harvick bluntly said.
Denny Hamlin not happy after William Byron incident
Hamlin’s remarks at Talladega were aggressive, even by his own standards. However, it makes more sense when you look back at the week before.
That’s when during the final stage at Texas, William Byron didn’t like how Hamlin had raced him moments before and opted to show his displeasure under caution by bumping into the rear of the No. 11. Except the bump turned into a spin and sent the JGR car sliding through the infield grass.
NASCAR officials missed the spin (and offered a weak explanation why during a hastily arranged post-race press conference). Due to that missed call, Hamlin dropped from second back to 22nd. He finished 10th. Byron finished seventh.
After the race, the HMS driver admitted that he intended to bump the No. 11 car but not spin him. Hamlin was upset but more reserved in his remarks.
“I mentioned on the radio that I should just get a teammate to knock out somebody under caution in the Final Four if we ever make it,” he said. “Certainly, it’s a precedent, but I don’t think that NASCAR cares about precedents. I think they kind of do it week to week and figure it out from there.”
A couple of days later, NASCAR penalized Byron with a deduction of 25 points and a $50,000 fine. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel later rescinded the points penalty and doubled the fine.
NASCAR penalizes Cole Custer for move on Charlotte Roval
After catching so much grief for inexcusably missing the Hamlin spin, it only made sense that NASCAR would be trying to redeem itself and have eagle eyes out in the coming weeks. Last week after Talladega, the sanctioning body docked Harvick 100 driver and owner points and punished crew chief Rodney Childers with a $100,000 fine and four-race suspension for the infraction of modifying a single-sourced part that was discovered during inspection at the R&D Center.
A week later, after the Charlotte Roval, NASCAR was at it again and Stewart-Haas Racing was once again on the receiving end. It was all the result of what happened on the final lap of an overtime restart when Cole Custer slowed his car entering the backstretch chicane, which blocked both Austin Dillon and Erik Jones, and allowed his SHR teammate Chase Briscoe, who was battling for the final playoff spot, to pass and solidify his spot in the playoffs.
Minutes after the race, with fans buzzing about the move on social media, NASCAR sent an email to the media, indicating that it would be reviewing data, video, and radio transmissions from the 41 car. On Tuesday, the governing body announced it had fined Custer and crew chief Michael Shiplett $100,000 each, citing Section 5.5 of the Rule Book, which “requires competitors to race at 100% of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to artificially alter the race’s finishing positions.”
The team was also docked 50 driver and owner points.
NASCAR explains reason for penalty and confirms void in leadership
A day after Custer’s ruling, senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, who has become a face of NASCAR this year addressing so many controversial moments, addressed yet another self-inflicted controversy during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio when asked why this situation was different than non-calls made in the past.
“The way that we have ruled on a past situation is always something that we consider, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that however we ruled on any other situation in years past, whether that be last year, five years ago, or 10 years ago, doesn’t make what happened at the Roval OK,” Miller said. “And if we did not react to what happened at the Roval it would be a serious dereliction of our responsibility to the rest of the competitors, the OEMs, the fans, and everything else.
“There are probably some situations in the past that we might wish we had back. But in no way, shape, or form does any past ruling change the fact that what happened at the Roval was wrong and we had to react to it.”
Fans can remember countless times when a driver wasn’t punished by helping a teammate in the one, five, or 10-year window Miller mentioned. Who needs to go back that far when you can go back just a few weeks ago to Daytona?
After Tyler Reddick blocked for his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon in the final laps of the regular season finale on the superspeedway, allowing the No. 3 car to win and claim a final spot in the playoffs, the 26-year-old bluntly admitted what he was doing.
“I wasn’t going to pass him,” Reddick told reporters. “I was going to be playing blocker for the rest of the field.”
And that’s why Hamlin and Harvick are calling for new leadership. There have been too many times this season when NASCAR has made a ruling that completely contradicts what it’s said or done in the past. Or, when the sanctioning body makes a mistake like missing the Hamlin spin out of sheer incompetence, it overreacts and hands down an overzealous penalty that later gets overturned, and then starts handing out penalties like candy.
All of those things indicate a lack of leadership, and until that is addressed in some fashion, drivers and fans can continue to expect more glaring mistakes and more haphazard rulings that won’t make any sense because they’re not based on any precedents, just like Hamlin said.