So Jimmie Johnson thinks Carl Edwards cheated on two, not one, but two, restarts and Denny Hamlin thought the new Gen 6 car was worse than the old COT? Just another week in NASCAR for us to digest. A five-time champion accusing a driver who hasn’t won a race in 70 tries of cheating. It gets stranger. Denny Hamlin gets out of his new car, challenges for second place after making a radical move and finishes third after passing a lot of cars (although some of them were on pit road) and says that the new Gen 6 car is not much different than the old Car of Tomorrow. What is going on?
What is going on here? On Thursday, NASCAR, using the same old, “actions detrimental to stock car racing” line, fined Hamlin $25,000. Hamlin got mad, declared that he wouldn’t pay the fine and he would rather be suspended. Talk about a blockbuster beginning to the season, this is it. Let’s examine both statements.
Johnson is highly competitive, as is his crew chief, Chad Knaus. I don’t think they ever believe anyone can beat them. It’s an arrogance that comes with winning five championships and really believing that they are just better than anyone else. There had to be a reason Carl Edwards beat him and it wasn’t because Cousin Carl was better than him or the Lowe’s team, it was because Edwards did something illegal. Quickly, the networks, be it Speed, ESPN, or FOX, reminded us of the incident in Richmond where Edwards was black flagged for jumping he start when he was told he was the leader. It was a totally different situation that even Kyle Petty pointed out was nothing like this one. In this case, Edwards was the leader and dictated the start, a point that NASCAR agreed with. Johnson questioned the officials, a thing that officials of the NBA, the NFL, and MLB deal harshly with on a regular basis. Of course, players in those three leagues are not available by radio. Once Johnson got out of the car, he was his usual polite and professional self. NASCAR ignored the comments.
Fast forward to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, on television and radio had the same line. The new car wasn’t as good as the old car and all that. He couldn’t pass. NASCAR considered it an insult to their whole advertising program. You know, the commercials about Johnson like that “new car smell” of the SS or Brad Keselowski using his iPhone to take pictures of the new Fusion. Hamlin trashed the whole program and took offense. Never mind the comments of one Kyle Busch at Bristol when the COT was new after he won and said he hated the car. But Hamlin has a history, something no one has mentioned thus far.
No one has mentioned that Hamlin was involved in those “super-secret” fines of a few years ago over his twitter activity. Apparently, he has struck a nerve with the sanctioning body, and thus the big fine. Thus far, Hamlin, unless news comes out to the contrary, that he won’t pay the fine and even may appeal. All well and good, but I imagine the good Coach Gibbs may just have a talk with Denny before any of that comes to pass, or not. One thing is for certain, he will be in the FedEx car on Sunday regardless.
My take on this whole situation is that it’s much ado about nothing. The fans in message boards have spoken. Johnson is a crybaby and Hamlin was not treated well. Neither offense was fineable. Both were speaking in the heat of the moment. Johnson had just been beaten by someone who had a better car, and I really believe that. Watching Johnson trying to catch Edwards in those final laps before Kenny Schrader had his problem and the caution came out, he wasn’t catching him. The arrogance of the No. 48 team was in play here. They had a chance to win, but in reality, they did not. Hamlin was frustrated because he had a good car, relegated to the back and making a gutsy move to get to the front, fell short. If he had beaten Johnson to the line, he might have been more diplomatic, but it was a heat of the moment comment. The boys in Daytona should have looked the other way, but his reputation stood in the way. Someday, human emotions, from both competitors and officials, will be put to rest, but I doubt it.
All this takes away from what was a sterling performance from Carl Edwards. Looking at the speed charts, the marriage of Edwards and Jimmy Fenning, the guy who mentored Matt Kenseth, is solid. Of course, this is NASCAR, and all this is normal, as it should be. I await what happens, and in the meantime, we’re racing at Las Vegas this weekend, and more stories to come.