Denny Hamlin rages against the NASCAR machine

Denny Hamlin rages against the NASCAR machine
March 8, 2013, 11:30 am
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Denny Hamlin should now be America’s favorite driver. He is standing for us all. (AP)

As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point.
—Denny Hamlin

Such is my general level of global apathy that I am an absolutist on very few things, but those that I do believe in, I believe in stridently.

For instance, these two things: I am not a NASCAR guy, and I am a Denny Hamlin guy.

At least I am a Denny Hamlin guy now. When he was fined $25,000 for pointing out what he perceives as flaws in NASCAR’s new Generation-6 cars, he rose up as few athletes do and said the words that should embolden all hearts in all walks of life:

“I'm not going to pay the fine.”

Yes! Fight The Power! Rage Against The Machine! Fingers Up To The Big Man! Finally, a NASCAR story that hits me and all other like-minded anti-authority types right where we live. You go, Hamlin! A steel-capped boot right in the nethers for them all!

But in fairness, you should read the original quote, as garnered in a group interview after last Sunday’s race in Phoenix:

“This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning," he said. "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.”

And for that, he was fined the 25 large by NASCAR’s dean of students. So he responded in kind:

“Ultimately, I'm not OK with it. This is the most upset and angry I've been in a really, really long time about anything that relates to NASCAR. The truth is what the truth is. I don't believe in this. I'm never going to believe in it. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don't care at this point.”

For one, he didn’t denigrate NASCAR. For two, he complained about a car’s performance, and didn’t accuse anyone of misfeasance, malfeasance, skullduggery or any other kind of duggery. For three, so the hell what? A driver is torqued about something, and what’s the harm in that? Isn’t that what NASCAR said it wanted when its ratings started to flag a few years ago, that they wanted a return to the good old days when character was celebrated?

But apparently you can be cranky about other drivers, but not the boss? This is a violation of everything we all hold closest to our hearts.

Beating up on the company is a time-honored American tradition. It is one of the few perks that as yet hasn’t been stripped from the American worker. We may not be able to affect change, but we are entitled to complain about it.

In other words, I stand with Hamlin. NASCAR can bite me.

Now understand I know nothing about what he is complaining. I didn’t know there was a Generation-6 car, or the five before it. I know about restrictor plates because I did some research on it, and I know that drivers get frustrated when they can’t pass other drivers. Oh, and I know that turning right is frowned upon.

But I’m not complaining about NASCAR. I frankly don’t care if they tear the floorboards out entirely and make them start their cars Flintstones-style. I watched more of Daytona than I ever did before, and that is the zenith of my commitment.

I know about free speech, though, and I know what is and what is not fair comment. Wyoming basketball fans chanting “Al-co-hol-ic!” at Colorado State basketball coach Larry Eustachy is not fair comment. Denny Hamlin saying, “This car kind of blows right now” absolutely is.

Thus NASCAR can do one of three things here:

1.      Rescind the fine, apologize, and give him $25,000 for needlessly irritating him (preferred).
2.      Rescind the fine and pretend nothing ever happened.
3.      Maintain their stance, punish Hamlin and reveal itself as a pack of weasels.

I suspect this will end up as No. 3, because nothing ruins a good conversation quite like, “I’m the boss, and you will shut up and obey. Most bosses are, by virtue of the skills they must exhibit to become bosses, humorless bland Cylons who think anything that isn’t strictly regulated is a product of the Russian Revolution.

My bosses, of course, are none of these things. They are each of them human exemplars, towering examples to the rest of humanity of what the species can do and be.

That is to say, I don’t have a spare $25K upon which to stand on my principles.

But I can stand on Denny Hamlin’s, and if there was a way for him to win this week’s race while pressing his bare buttocks against the driver’s side window, telling NASCAR what to kiss and at what rate of speed, I would sign on to it without a nanosecond’s hesitation.

In sum, Denny Hamlin should now be America’s favorite driver. He is standing for us all, putting voice to our silent desires to tell the man (whether or not the man is a man or a woman, of course) to fall down a flight of stairs, or to shove the paperwork up a capacious hinder, or just to say to the worker at the next desk every now and then, “Boy is this a stupid idea.” While of course performing the task that has been born of the stupid idea.

If that isn’t America at its essence, then NASCAR needs to give another country a try. North Korea has a lot of open space, and maybe Kim Jong-Un has a Dale Earnhardt thing. After Dennis Rodman, anything is on.

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