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LAS VEGAS -- A furious Denny Hamlin says he won't pay the $25,000 fine leveled on him by NASCAR on Thursday after his criticism of the Gen-6 race car.
The fine also leaves many of his fellow drivers wondering what they can say about their new cars without incurring NASCAR's wrath.
Hamlin couldn't understand why he was at the center of NASCAR's latest tempest over its drivers' media comments. He compared the new race car unfavorably to last year's car, along with lamenting the overall quality of racing last week in Phoenix.
Although Hamlin's brief comments were barely noticed last weekend, NASCAR -- clearly concerned about the Gen-6 car's public perception -- leveled a significant fine against him before Thursday's open test of the new car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"Ultimately, I'm not OK with it," Hamlin said outside his hauler after the morning test. "This is the most upset and angry I've been in a really, really long time about anything that relates to NASCAR."
Hamlin actually ran well last Sunday in the second race for NASCAR's new Gen-6 race car in Phoenix, finishing third in a fairly dull race that featured no passes for the lead in the final 189 laps of Carl Edwards' victory.
But when Hamlin was asked on pit road how he liked the car, he said: "I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning."
NASCAR deemed Hamlin's remarks as detrimental to stock car racing, saying that while drivers get "ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product."
That didn't help Hamlin's bewilderment at his fine in a sport known for frank talk about every aspect of competition.
"It's an opinion. It's not even a bad one," Hamlin said Thursday. "I don't want to make things worse than they already are, and this is something that was absolutely nothing that got blown into something, and it's just going to be worse for them, so just let them deal with it.
"The truth is what the truth is, and I don't believe in this," Hamlin added. "I'm never going to believe in it. And so as far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me at this point."
Hamlin might not have a choice: According to NASCAR rules, unpaid fines may be deducted from a driver's purse or point fund earnings.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Hamlin is allowed to appeal his fine, and NASCAR apparently isn't in a rush to collect it. Section 12 of the NASCAR rule book states fines must be paid "promptly," but gives no specific timeframe, and says unpaid fines "may result in suspension."