RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin will likely be without his crew chief for the first race of NASCAR's playoffs, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver says he has no problem with the governing body making penalties harsh when cars fail post-race inspection.
Mike Wheeler was suspended for two races and fined $50,000 this week after Hamlin finished a weekend sweep of the Xfinity and Cup series races at Darlington Raceway last weekend. Hamlin's car was found to be in violation of rear suspension rules. He also was docked five playoff points.
Wheeler will miss Saturday night's race at Richmond Raceway and the first playoff race in Chicago.
Hamlin said the penalty "took something that was super positive and turned it into a negative pretty quick," but he has no problem with the decision.
"Yeah, I think it fits," he said. "I think we can talk about taking wins away in the future. I think it's definitely a possibility. As long as it's the same for everyone, I think that's key. Make sure that when someone else is in there with the same violation, it gets the same penalty and treatment even if it's in the playoffs."
Wheeler went and saw the violation for himself this week, Hamlin said, and agreed that there was a violation.
The team wasn't intentionally cheating, Hamlin said, blaming the inspection failure on wear and tear on the car that occurred during the race.
"We didn't start the race with an illegal car," he said, noting that his team and others set their cars up to get the most speed possible, even if it means going right up to the line that would make it illegal. "It worked its way that way. When I say, 'It worked its way,' it was so close, but so close doesn't matter. It was still over the line."
The penalties will not cost Hamlin a spot in the playoffs because he won at New Hampshire in July.
His situation is much different than that of Joey Logano, the first driver to have a race victory "encumbered" by NASCAR this year. Logano won the April race at Richmond Raceway, but his car failed post-race inspection. NASCAR rules allow Logano to keep the victory, but not the playoff points or automatic playoff berth.
Logano, driving for Penske Racing, has struggled ever since and arrived at Richmond on Friday needing to win on Saturday night to qualify for the playoffs. He, too, has no issue with the penalties, but said it will not deter teams from pushing the envelope to gain speed.
"It is the rules we have been given and we all need to play within them," he said. "I am all right with that. But we all need to push it to be able to be successful on the race track. We can't lay up because you would never be competitive enough to win a race. I do feel like the penalty of the encumbered finish and taking playoff eligibility and points away is very severe. It is very severe. I don't think it needs to be more severe."
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