Denny Hamlin has emerged as NASCAR's Dark Knight.
He is picking fights at every turn — with the NASCAR establishment and with former teammates. He is not afraid to buck the system, even though the system seems intent on breaking him.
I'll be cheering for him despite the odds.
In a silly season of contradictions for NASCAR — it supports victims of gun violence and the NRA, for instance — Hamlin has emerged as a classic anti-hero.
He is 100 percent on point protesting a $25,000 for remarks critical of the brand — namely, the new Gen 6 car — after making some rather innocuous comments a few weeks ago in Phoenix.
"There's a lot of room for improvement for this car," Hamlin said in a Speed interview that echoed several of his Phoenix post-race comments. "It's going to take a little while to get these cars driving as good as we had in Generation 5."
NASCAR (aka The Kremlin) docked Hamlin $25,000. Hamlin has refused to pay the fine but also decided against an appeal, meaning that the money will be garnished from his purse money or points-fund bonuses, as per NASCAR rules.
NASCAR has said it "considered this matter closed," although it really isn't because it's a public-relations bloodbath. Here's a sport that says it wants to encourage "personalities" yet stifles any kind of free thinking.
And of course there is the obvious "huh?" question that begs to be asked: How can Dale Earnhardt Jr. call the racing at Talladega "ridiculous" and only appeals to "bloodthirsty" fans and not get fined last season, yet Hamlin gets slapped in the face over his comments?
"If I was Jeff Gordon, Tony [Stewart], Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. or any Hendrick [Motorsports] driver — let's just say that — they would have had a conversation with me before," Hamlin said. "Just to slap the fine on me and not tell me anything is what really, really bugged me a lot. That felt like I had not earned my place in this sport and I've grinded it out here for eight years and I really feel like I've done what it takes to earn the respect of both my peers and NASCAR and I felt like if I had been somebody else the outcome may have been different."
Which leads us to another fight Hamlin is waging. And this one isn't going away any time soon.
Hamlin has sparred with former teammate Joey Logano twice this season. The first pot shot was via Twitter after the Daytona 500. The next exchange was more heated, following the race at Bristol this past weekend.
Hamlin spun out Logano with about 150 laps remaining, leading Logano to lean into Hamlin's car post-race for an animated chat. The crews from both teams exchanged shoves as well.
"He said he was coming for me," said Hamlin, who finished 23rd. "I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor."
"We've got a freaking genius behind the wheel of the 11," said Logano, who wound up 17th. "Probably the worst teammate I ever had, so I learned that now. He chose to run into the back of me. Whatever. I have a scorecard and I'm not putting up with that."
Translation: The battles involving the Dark Knight will continue.
Dale Jr. brings the dollars
So who's the biggest cash cow in NASCAR?
That would be the artist formerly known as Little E, Dale Earnhardt Jr.