On Friday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin addressed the media regarding his health issues this past week. Hamlin was obviously aggravated by the questions that have been raised regarding the reasons he was not allowed to race last week at Auto Club Speedway.
Everything started last Friday at Auto Club Speedway when Hamlin began experiencing eye irritation. His initial thought was that he was beginning to get a sty. He assumed it would go away. After shopping with his wife on Saturday night, the irritation began to worsen. Late Saturday evening, Hamlin checked to see if medical staff was left at the infield care center. Upon visiting the care center, the initial thought was that Hamlin was experiencing complications form a sinus infection.
On Sunday, however, the condition was yet again worse than the day before. The decision was eventually made to not permit Hamlin to race due to his blurred vision. That situation seemed to set off some concern within the NASCAR community.
The series’ most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented about Hamlin’s situation, “I’m worried the perception is bad for NASCAR and the perception is bad for Denny.” He continued, “If Denny didn’t race because his vision is blurred and he had a sinus infection, NASCAR should put out a release and say, this is the timeline of the events and this is why we made this choice and this is protocol for going forward.” He also commented, “That answers everybody’s questions. Don’t you have questions? I have questions. We shouldn’t have questions. We should all feel pretty comfortable with what happened.” Earnhardt even went so far as to say a statement would clear Hamlin, “…of any wrongdoing or pressure or rumors.”
The issue with statements similar to Earnhardt’s is that Hamlin, as well as anyone else, have rights that prevent anyone else releasing medical information about them without their permission. Granted Earnhardt’s comment didn’t directly ask for that, but it did seem somewhat implied.
NASCAR’s statement about the incident may well have also been used to fuel the fire. NASCAR spokesman, Kerry Tharp, told USA Today Sports, “Information regarding Denny Hamlin’s health and medical condition should come from Denny and/or Joe Gibbs Racing. As our policy, Denny will be allowed to return to on track competition after NASCAR receives notification that he has been medically cleared by his physicians to race.”
That statement is really all NASCAR can do. Just as in the Jeremy Mayfield case a few years ago, as well AJ Allmendinger’s situation, NASCAR itself cannot publicly reveal medical information about anyone without their permission, though many feel they should.
Competitors, fans, media or any other entity, only has the right to know what a given person wants them to know in regards to said person’s health or medical situation. No one was put in danger in this situation, the system worked as it was designed to.
Hamlin, openly frustrated by the comments from the week, became agitated when asked about the situation on Friday and if it had impacted his reputation. Hamlin replied in a stern, direct voice, “I’m going to try to not get mad. Like I just said, my health is my business, but what if it was cancer or tumor – I don’t have to tell anyone. It’s my business. People who think negatively of me or think that we side-stepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous. I’m in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR, I would have to be an absolute moron—moron to risk that. I have a daughter that I have to provide for for a really long time. For people to question who I am inside and outside the race car, I’ve never done anything to even put that in question.” He continued, “It bothers me because there’s people out there that like to make rumors and of course within our NASCAR community rumors become truth when enough people say it. I’m done.”
Earnhardt was also asked about the situation on Friday. When asked if the statement released by Hamlin on Wednesday answered his concerns, he replied, “Well I feel real comfortable with the process and I just was worried. I thought that the lack of a statement from Denny’s point of view left him vulnerable and unprotected. I just felt like it was important for him to have a very simple statement that sort of cleared up any kind of assumptions or whatever you have for him personally.”
This situation has definitely riled up Denny Hamlin. Rumors sometimes cause more harm than the actual problem the rumor is about. It is hard to blame a driver, or anyone, for being frustrated and upset when people begin speaking out of turn and assuming facts that are not in evidence. NASCAR drivers are, for the most part, very private people. When it is regarding health or medical issues, they have the right to be. We should never make assumptions or veiled accusations about drivers, teams or series representatives. We should always wait until the facts are available and the parties involved are ready to announce or not announce anything about themselves.
NASCAR has a fantastic reputation in regards to the competitors, teams and officials. A much better track record than other major sports such as football, basketball or baseball. It seems there are constantly news stories where a football player has killed someone, or baseball players have used illegal drugs. Obviously, NASCAR is not immune from those things, and to be fair, not all “stick and ball” sports stars are involved with anything illegal. The percentages, however, are in our favor. We do not need to sabotage that reputation with false or uninformed accusations.
Just this past week, we have seen how rumors can get out of hand and take on a life of their own, when someone reported that Jeff Gordon was involved in a homosexual relationship. Whether it was true or not (this writer does not believe that report in any way) it should not have been reported. The story took on a life of its own. That should be unacceptable.
This writer commends Denny Hamlin on his stance against rumors. It is a practice that should be widely used across the sport of NASCAR.
Denny did have one last comment as he walked out of the media center on Friday. “I’m going to win this weekend, I promise.”