NASCAR loves to sell itself as the ultimate national pastime, a sport that embodies all that's great about America and American values.
It's why the National Rifle Association, exposed since Newtown as little more than the paid mouthpiece of the firearms industry and enabler of sociopathic spree killers (even if that's not its intention), is shelling out big bucks to be the title sponsor of one of the Texas races this year. It's a nakedly political, last-gasp effort to influence a public relations war it's losing badly these days.
Here's the thing, though: Since when is a Kremlin-like suppression of free expression an American value?
There's no other way to characterize NASCAR's decision to fine Denny Hamlin $25,000 for "disparaging remarks" after Hamlin made, well, disparaging remarks about the new Gen-6 car and Tournament of Roses parade racing that has been its result so far this year.
"While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product," the NASCAR statement said in part.
That's great. But what if the racing product needs to be denigrated?
Because I seriously doubt Hamlin said what he said simply to "denigrate the racing product." He's pointing out, as a man who makes his livelihood from the product, that it needs to better. And frankly it does.
Whether or not Hamlin pointing that out will make it happen can certainly be debated. What can't be debated is that muzzling its drivers simply makes NASCAR look thin-skinned and petty.
And how does that make the product better?