DARLINGTON, S.C. -- We’d like to welcome back to Darlington Raceway Denny Hamlin, the 2017 Bojangles’ Southern 500 champion.*
What’s that? You see a typo?
No, that’s an asterisk.
I wrote in a column last year that this asterisk should stay there – unless that win is taken away and awarded to that race’s runner-up Kyle Busch because Hamlin’s car failed postrace inspection.
But NASCAR didn’t make that happen.
After the postrace inspection showed Hamlin’s car violated rear suspension rules, Hamlin still got to keep the win, prize money and even the trophy. But hey, his crew chief was suspended for two races and fined $50,000. The team lost five playoff points, and the team and driver were assessed deductions of 25 points apiece.
Never mind the second part.
Lemme repeat that first part: “Hamlin still got to keep the win, prize money and the trophy.”
That wasn’t right. Isn’t right. Never will be right.
When I wrote my column last year demanding Hamlin’s 2017 Southern 500 win be taken away, I wasn’t sure what would come of it. I just thought that was how things were going to be.
But why let a racer keep the win if his or her car failed inspection? Who cares if fans saw the race’s finish live or on TV? Even if they discovered long after the race’s end that the driver’s car failed inspection, wouldn’t those same fans also want things to be fair?
It was insulting to those fans that NASCAR thought they would not be intelligent enough to process that if the winner was rightfully changed.
Perhaps NASCAR has realized that.
Before this season started, NASCAR changed its rules to where if a postrace inspection finds a racer’s car to have an L1 or L2 infraction, that driver and team has the win taken away.
Not only that, the driver would instead receive last-place points and earnings. And on top of that, the disqualified team would lose its playoff points, stage points and even playoff berth/advancement awards that came along with that.
If this rule was in place two years ago like I wish it would have, Hamlin would only have one Southern 500 victory to his name (2010). His 2017 car is the only one during the previous 69 Southern 500s that took the checkered flag but failed inspection.
Hamlin’s overall career, however, has still been an exemplary one with 35 victories (34 with my asterisk). He also has two Daytona 500 victories to his name, the latest being in February.
But again, this column is about his 2017 Southern 500 win.
After Hamlin was asked last year how he looks back on that and if he thinks NASCAR could take away the win, 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.”
But it was an infraction. It doesn’t matter how it happened.
And even Hamlin told reporters not long after the 2017 Southern 500 the following:
"I think we can talk about taking wins away in the future," Hamlin 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."
That’s what I want, too. Fairness for everyone.
But this column is not just simply to hammer home something I genuinely believe in.
A greater good can come from this.
Therefore, I’m asking Hamlin to make a donation to a Darlington or Florence-area charity of his choice for the same amount of money that would have been taken away if this year’s rules had been in effect in 2017.
In doing so, he’s also helping himself. Donations are tax-deductible, after all.
The more races a driver wins, the more he or she must pay in taxes. And Hamlin has won four times this season, including the most recent race at Bristol.
But this column isn’t about those four wins.
And this column SURE isn’t about the Xfinity race he won Saturday at Darlington Raceway – only to be disqualified after it failed inspection.
Meet Cole Custer, who finished second in the race but – because of Hamlin’s disqualification – is your new Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 champion.
That marked the first time this has happened to the original winner of an Xfinity Series race since this rule was implemented (Hamlin has until noon Monday to appeal).
But this column was intended to be about the one Cup victory from 2017 at Darlington Hamlin should no longer have.
Unfortunately, it appears Hamlin will remain the 2017 Southern 500 champion. *