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March 15, 2023

NASCAR penalizes Hamlin for intentional contact with Chastain at Phoenix

NASCAR fined Denny Hamlin $50,000 and docked him 25 driver points on Wednesday for his intentional contact with Ross Chastain late in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Phoenix.

On the next-to-last lap of the race, Hamlin pushed high into Turn 1 in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and took Chastain and his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet toward the wall, making contact. Hamlin, who was in sixth place before the race’s final restart, finished 23rd, one spot ahead of Chastain. They were the final two cars on the lead lap.

The section of the NASCAR Rule Book specifically mentioned in the penalty was Sections 4.4: NASCAR Member Code of Conduct. Within that section, these items were detailed: B. Attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race or championship and wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result. D. Actions NASCAR finds to be detrimental to stock racing or NASCAR.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said in a Wednesday afternoon video call with reporters that each instance of on-track retaliation and contact between rivals is handled on a case-by-case basis. But Sawyer added that Hamlin’s admission of intent — and its impact on the two drivers’ finishing positions — was the tipping point for competition officials in their post-race evaluations.

“They’re all individual, right? They’re unique to themselves,” Sawyer said. “When you look at this one this past weekend, we would have viewed that as a racing incident, but then it’s 24 hours later and you have a competitor that has gone on a podcast, which I will say, we’re delighted that Denny has a podcast. We think that’s great, interacts with the fans, but when you start admitting that you have intentionally done something that would compromise the results of the end of the race, then that rises to a level that we’re going to get involved. There’s no other way to look at that. We’re going to get involved in those situations. We’ve been consistent in the past with that, and we will be consistent going forward.”

RELATED: Watch Elton Sawyer on Hamlin penalty

After initially posting on social media that he would not appeal the penalty, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tweeted Friday that he had changed his mind.

After Phoenix, Hamlin was seventh in the points standings and had one top-10 finish in the first four races this season. Chastain was third in the standings and had one top-five finish and two top-10 finishes this season. After the penalty, Hamlin dropped to 12th while Chastain moved up to second.

On Monday, Hamlin spoke on his Actions Detrimental podcast, hosted by Dirty Mo Media, and said the move was intentional and also a measure of revenge for previous run-ins the two drivers have had on the track. The most recent incident was in the preseason Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, when a collision with Chastain’s car sent Hamlin’s No. 11 looping.

“When he knows it’s coming, he is the hardest guy to wreck on the planet,” Hamlin said on the podcast. “But I just, I wanted to get back to racing honestly with him, and I think that that’s a lot of the conversation that we had after. … He came up to me, and he says, ‘I guess I deserve it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ …. So we talked, and I think that we are in a better place where I think we’re willing to put the past behind us, and I think that we’re going to judge each other from this point forward, and I think that’s the fairest way to do it.”

In other penalties announced Wednesday, NASCAR hit each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four Cup Series teams and the No. 31 team of Kaulig Racing with L2-level infractions for unapproved modifications to parts. The Nos. 5, 9, 24, 31 and 48 teams all lost 100 team and driver points (with the exception of the No. 9, which did not lose driver points) and 10 playoff points. The crew chiefs for each team were suspended for four races and fined $100,000. Hendrick Motorsports released a statement saying it would appeal the penalties but would not request to defer the suspensions. Kaulig Racing also released a Thursday statement noting it will appeal the penalty, but will request to defer crew chief Trent Owens’ suspension until the appeal hearing. | READ MORE

Competition officials also issued a safety violation for the loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle (Sections A&C) to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Aric Almirola. Crew members Ryan Mulder (front tire changer) and Sean Cotten (jack) were suspended for two races.

The Cup Series will be on track at 11:35 a.m. ET on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Busch Light Pole Qualifying (FS1, PRN and SiriusXM Radio).

RELATED: Full Atlanta schedule