DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Denny Hamlin won last year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.
He also deserves an asterisk.
Want to take that asterisk away? Take away that win. Either give it to the runner-up or vacate it.
It’s embarrassing for NASCAR that Hamlin is still declared the victor in one of its most prestigious races after his car failed a postrace inspection.
Oh, it gets better.
Hamlin’s car that won last year’s XFINITY race? Yeah, it failed, too – for the same reason.
I’m not making this up. It’s enough to make you laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Whether Hamlin intended for his cars to be in that shape at the end of those races is irrelevant. They failed inspection.
Wait. He was punished, you say?
Here’s what happened after it was discovered that his car violated rear-suspension rules for the Southern 500: His crew chief was suspended for two races and fined $50,000. The team also lost five playoff points, and the team and driver were assessed deductions of 25 points apiece. And that win would not count as one that could punch a ticket to the Chase.
But taking away points of any kind was irrelevant, since Hamlin already had qualified for the Chase by winning at New Hampshire.
Hamlin’s XFINITY penalty, the fines and points deductions, were a tad less.
But here’s the kicker: For both races, Hamlin got to keep the wins, the prize money – and the trophies that local workers labored for hours upon end to make.
Therefore, those “punishments” are not enough.
Who recommended early on that wins maybe should be taken away in the future? It was Mr. Hamlin, himself last year, less than a week after sweeping Darlington.
"I think we can talk about taking wins away in the future," Hamlins said at the time. "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."
But fast forward to Friday, after Hamlin was asked how he looks back on last year’s win and if he thinks NASCAR could take away the win, the trophy and prize money in the future, this was his response:
“The infraction that we had, it was so small that it had no bearing on the finishes,” Hamlin said. “Really, previous wins that I had validated that. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. It had nothing to do with any of that. You hit the wall here so many times that things move around.”
True. But again, Hamlin’s car failed inspection.
After Joey Logano’s car failed postrace inspection in the spring of 2017 at Richmond for the same violation as Hamlin’s, his lone win of 2017 could not count toward qualifying for the Chase.
And Logano was not included in the Chase as a result.
So someone’s car failing inspection CAN be a big deal.
So what if it isn’t discovered that the driver failed inspection until a couple days after the race?
In the Olympics, it could be years down the road before it’s discovered an athlete or team – on purpose or accident – violated rules.
And do the athletes get to keep the medals just because the violation was found later? No. The medals are returned.
So, in the future after a winner’s car fails postrace inspection, NASCAR should take away the win and the trophy.
And about the prize money? NASCAR should do one of two things:
>>Give that money to the second-place finisher.
>>Or better yet, don’t let any driver have it – and instead give that winner’s share of money to a local charity of that track’s choice.
Look, I understand the winner will always be the lasting image on fans’ minds while they go home from a race, regardless of whether the win holds up.
And I understand everyone and anyone associated with the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team will tell you they won the race.
But you don’t win something when your car fails postrace inspection.
That means you didn’t win it fair and square.
But NASCAR record books still list Hamlin as winner of the Southern 500.
Not in MY books, however.
He gets an asterisk.
Reporter Scott Chancey covers NASCAR for the Morning News.