Updates from Thursday, August 7
FOX Sports' Tom Jensen has the latest on Hamlin's situation:
Denny Hamlin recovered on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after an issue on pit road to rattle off a third-place finish in the Brickyard 400. Unfortunately, that story was too good to be true.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was docked 75 championship points after a post-race inspection revealed that the No. 11 team had violated NASCAR rules. Nate Ryan of USA Today notes the full penalty for Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb:
Along with the penalties for the team, Grubb was also fined $125,000 and will be on probation for the next six months, per the NASCAR release, via MRN.com.
The penalty was reportedly issued for unsealed rear firewall block-off plates. While they are intended to prevent fluids, smoke and fire from getting to the driver's compartment, they can also improve aerodynamics of Hamlin's car during the race.
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp spoke about the penalty, per Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer:
This should send a message that for anyone who attempts to overstep or bend the rules, it’s not worth it.
We revised our penalty and appeal processes to make the system more effective, fair and transparent. That was something all of our competitors asked for.
Hamlin spoke about his car's performance during post-race interviews.
"I was pretty confident we were going to win the race," he said. "If it all worked out, we were going to have a 15-second lead with enough fuel to make it. We were sitting really, really pretty to win this race."
This has already been an up-and-down season for Hamlin, but he has rattled off three straight top-10 finishes. The 33-year-old also has a victory this year, essentially securing a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Prior to the violations, Hamlin was 11th in the points standings and ninth on the Chase Grid. Fox Sports: NASCAR provides a look at where the penalty puts him:
While the loss of 75 points for both Hamlin as a driver and Joe Gibbs as an owner hurts, Grubb being suspended six races is far worse. The crew chief has been with Hamlin all season and has helped him maintain a spot in the Chase.
Though the suspension will affect Hamlin on the track, Ryan points out why it might not be too significant:
With the way NASCAR restructured the Chase format, Hamlin still has a spot secured. An emphasis has been put on winning in 2014, so he remains ahead of drivers who haven't visited Victory Lane in the Chase standings.
Obviously, there is a chance this could lead to Hamlin unraveling and missing out on the postseason. But with his steady racing lately, he will likely still have a chance to compete for a championship.
Even with the points docked for him and Joe Gibbs, he would remain ninth on the Chase Grid. Dropping down to 21st in points, Hamlin is still ahead of both Aric Almirola (22nd) and Kurt Busch (25th) for drivers with one victory.
Jeff Gluck of USA Today notes how this penalty is different from one during previous seasons:
In years past, it might have been a crushing blow for a team trying to make NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup. But by virtue of his May win at Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin is already in the Chase — and even a whopper of a penalty like Tuesday's does little to change that.
The changes might now become a dilemma for NASCAR, as even docking points and levying out suspensions won't drastically hurt Hamlin. While Grubb will have to pay a hefty fine, he still has a chance to rejoin the team at a crucial time.
And with his standings even after losing 75 points, Grubb will likely be around for the Chase.
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