In case you're a NASCAR fan who has been living under a rock (or been in a medically induced coma) for the past three weeks, let me bring you up to speed on the strange saga of Denny Hamlin.
Following the Phoenix race, Hamlin made some criticizing remarks about the Gen-6 race car that were rather innocuous. However, NASCAR felt otherwise and proceeded to fine Hamlin $25,000 for his remarks.
Instead of shutting up and paying the fine, Hamlin instead put his foot down and said, "No." Actually, his response was more along the lines of, "You must be trippin' if you think I'm going to pay this fine."
In the days that ensued, fans and fellow drivers showed their support for Hamlin's stance while most agreed that NASCAR's approach was heavy-handed and slightly brutish.
He may not be a Sprint Cup champion or a Daytona 500 winner, but Hamlin is a hero all the same.
To stand up and take a stand against a sanctioning body as big as NASCAR is akin to career suicide in most cases. Just ask Carl Long. But with all due respect to Mr. Long, Hamlin's saving grace is his star power. That allows him the cushion of speaking his mind.This in turn puts NASCAR in a precarious position.
If a driver does not pay a fine, they could risk suspension. But why would NASCAR want to suspend a contending driver? Why not just control their egos and rescind the fine? To forget the whole thing and act like they never "disrespected" Hamlin is quite possibly the best business decision they could make.
Hamlin's plight is exactly what NASCAR needs right now, not in an entertainment sense but in an ethical sense. Too many times in the world of sports we see great personalities softened by harsh policies put in place by the powers that be.
But why? Why not just let those personalities do what is right and be an agent of change for the sport they love? Success may be great, but it is those who choose to alter the landscape of their sport that truly get remembered and revered.
We talk and talk about how refreshing it is to see a driver "speak their mind," how refreshing it is to "see individuality" in today's youth craze. But that doesn't hold a candle to how awesome it truly is when one individual refuses to compromise their ethics as a driver and stand up for what they believe in. We may as well be watching David and Goliath at 200 mph.
NASCAR needs more of this. It needs more drivers willing to take risks and put their foot down on what they believe is right. Fining Hamlin showed the fans and the general public that NASCAR isn't as receptive to criticism as they claim to be, which is a weakness if there ever was one.
Hamlin's act ultimately embodied the fantasy of just about every employee out there who has ever felt wronged by their employer. That in turn gained him the overwhelming support of the fans, drivers and general public. It's safe to say that NASCAR is feeling quite humbled now.
Good for you, Denny Hamlin. Good for you.