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Did Denny Hamlin’s Unprecedented Stardom Rigged NASCAR’s Disputed Decision at Richmond?

Published 04/02/2024, 4:36 PM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

Over the past few years, Denny Hamlin has enjoyed a villain-like role in the NASCAR Cup Series. While it has encouraged some hatred, it has undoubtedly increased his popularity. In fact, his antics at the Toyota Owners 400 last Sunday are a testament to his strength and reach in the sport.

While registering his 53rd career win in the Cup Series, Hamlin became part of a damning controversy. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was guilty of jumping on the restart, which indirectly proved pivotal in his victory on Sunday. What’s more surprising is how NASCAR didn’t find anything wrong with this act.

Is NASCAR counting on controversies to help the sport gain more popularity?

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It is no secret how NASCAR has struggled with its viewership in recent times. Having said that, plenty of efforts have been put in to revive the lost popularity. With the new media rights, the sport is going digital and exploring various other avenues to reach new audiences.

While all these conventional tactics are in place, nothing beats the thrill and success of negative publicity. In today’s times, motorsport fans cherish a spicy affair on the tracks, regardless of the outcome. In such a case, a character like Denny Hamlin certainly comes in handy.

 

With his knack for being an outspoken and fearless personality, Hamlin has more often than not been surrounded by controversies in his career. It has only reached a new level ever since he started his own podcast and made the most of his freedom of speech.

In the process, while he has attracted some sort of hatred, Denny Hamlin has certainly increased his followers. Many fans love the intrinsic and lesser-known details shared by the #11 driver. Love him or hate him, Hamlin is certainly an influential figure in the Cup Series right now.

 

Having said that, the 43-year-old was lucky to escape a penalty for jumping after the restart. With NASCAR siding with Hamlin’s act, it only got more surprising. Not only that, it raised plenty of other questions. Would the governing body have made the same decision had a less popular driver been involved? Probably, not.

After all, it wouldn’t have made as good a narrative as villain Hamlin winning the race. Truth be told, NASCAR favoring Hamlin wasn’t merely a mistaken or reckless call. In fact, this isn’t the first time that the ruling body has backed out of penalizing Hamlin with a jumping penalty.

Denny Hamlin won the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race despite accusations of jumping restart

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What happened at Richmond Raceway last Sunday was quite reminiscent of an incident at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2015. With 10 laps remaining in the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race, Brad Keselowski led the field to pit road for mandatory four-tire pit stops.

With Keselowski penalized for speeding, Denny Hamlin had Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick on the final restart, challenging strongly for the win. It was then that he was accused of jumping the restart, taking a quick lead, and holding off both drivers for an emphatic victory.

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After the race, Busch looked unhappy about the incident. As reported by Sportingnews.com, he said, “We’ll have to go to the tape to see if Denny went too soon. His car went two car lengths before (the line), in my mind. I was asleep at the wheel.”

Even Kevin Harvick spoke on similar lines. He said, “It just depended on how everything shook out on the restart. Denny sped up, slowed down and took off way early.” At the same time, Denny Hamlin showed little admission about being guilty. He said, “I thought I (went) right at the zone. Maybe right before, but they don’t measure it in inches. You have to be on your toes on that last restart.”

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Well, nine years later, Hamlin performed a similar stunt at Richmond. With NASCAR siding with the JGR driver, it certainly leaves a lot of ambiguity among the drivers and the fans. Furthermore, since Hamlin got a free pass this time, will any other driver be brave enough to try it later this season? Well, only time can answer this. It would be interesting to see what NASCAR decides to do then.

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Written by:

Priyank Mithani

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Priyank Mithani is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. He specializes in writing analytical and opinionated stories for the division, providing his readers with a unique perspective. Not only does he keep his readers up to date with the lives of NASCAR Drivers like Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr, but he has often been the first to report on several on-track incidents.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta