Denny Hamlin, NASCAR move on
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Although he's out $25,000, Denny Hamlin declared himself the winner over NASCAR in the battle of public opinion.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also believes, after meeting with chairman Brian France, that NASCAR understands it overreacted in fining him for what the governing body called his "disparaging remarks" about the Gen-6 car on March 3 at Phoenix.
"The peers of mine, at least the ones that have a backbone to have the nerve to stick up for what's right and wrong, agreed," Hamlin said on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, explaining his decision not to appeal the fine. "What was the point in going another week or so? We've got bigger fish to fry than to argue over what I said just for $25,000.
"It's better to move on and let NASCAR get its credibility back, and they're going to do that, and I'm going to move on and focus on the championship."
Hamlin met with France on Sunday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Hamlin announced via Twitter on Thursday that he would not appeal the fine after saying a week earlier that he would.
"They are very, very sensitive about this car," Hamlin said of NASCAR. "This is their baby. What I was most frustrated with is it's not even the opinion I have. I like the car. I think the car is better. That's me giving you 100 percent honest truth.
"I was more frustrated with the tire that we were on than anything. That's the part that frustrated me. It put me on an island feeling like I was bashing the race car, which is not how I felt."
Hamlin was issued the fine three days after the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Gen-5 cars," Hamlin told reporters after the Phoenix race. "This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero-balance right.
"Right now, you just run single file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th place with 30 [laps] to go, I would have stayed there -- I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything."
After meeting with France, Hamlin discovered he was on the same page with him and NASCAR for the most part.
"In hindsight, I really believe they overreacted and I believe that they think they overreacted once they thought about it a little bit," Hamlin said. "Now we're at a point where we're good with each other and we're just going to move on from here."
Hamlin declined to get into specifics of what was said between him and France.
"The things that we said we've got to keep between us for the sake of my relationship with [NASCAR]," he said. "I definitely believe we were on the same page when we left the hauler."
Hamlin said he was prepared to face suspension if NASCAR chose that option, which the rulebook allows, when a driver does not pay a fine. NASCAR also has the option to take the fine out of the driver's winnings, which will be done in this situation.
Hamlin said team owner Joe Gibbs did not push him to back off the appeal and settle with NASCAR. What bothered Hamlin most was no one from NASCAR reached out to discuss what he said before issuing the fine.
"To not tell me anything is what really, really bugged me -- a lot. That felt like I had not earned my place in the sport. I have grinded it out here for eight years, and I really felt like I had done what it takes to earn the respect of my peers and NASCAR. I felt like if I had been somebody else the outcome may have been different."
Hamlin, who is fourth in points heading into Sunday's race, didn't seem surprised that many drivers did not support his stance against NASCAR.
"Everyone wants to stay on NASCAR's good side," he said. "That ultimately plays a lot of what you hear in interviews. Ninety percent of what you hear on a weekly basis is just guys trying to stay on NASCAR's good side. There's very few that really give the honest and true truth."
Keselowski, who earned an audience with France prior to the season opener for being critical of the sport's competing interest, agreed.
"There's a lot of people in this spot that take the easy road,'' the reigning Sprint Cup champion said.
"That's more than just drivers. [Hamlin] certainly chose not to do that, which I can respect. I wish more people would, maybe not in the way Denny has, but I wish more people would do things not because they're easy, but because they are the right thing to do.''
Asked whether he will give honest opinions moving forward, Hamlin smiled and said, "I'll have to really honestly think about that."
"As long as I can give a 100 percent honest answer and not get in trouble, I'll give an honest answer," he added. "If I know my answer could have repercussions, I'll just refer to 'no comment.'"