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Newman, Hamlin say they were hit with fines

| Saturday, July 31, 2010

LONG POND, Pa. — Asked the amount of his NASCAR fine, Ryan Newman kept quiet.

What did he do?

Shrugged shoulders.

Hey, maybe the threat of secret fines for speaking out against the stock car series is working after all.

NASCAR expects omerta (the code of silence) from its drivers when it comes to publicly lashing out against the sport. If they do, they'll be fined.

Ask Newman or Denny Hamlin.

Both Sprint Cup star drivers acknowledged at Pocono Raceway they were the ones fined by NASCAR for making critical comments about the racing series.

"It's not a good thing by any means for our sport," Newman said Friday. "The less we talk about it, the more we can talk about the racing."

Newman refused to disclose the amount of the fine or what he said. He implied that it was for comments he made after he crashed at Talladega Superspeedway.

Newman said in April that winning was "a lottery, racing for a championship shouldn't be a lottery." He added the wreck-heavy races at Talladega "affect our championship because it's not racing."

He was one of a few drivers Friday who blamed the media for stirring up controversy and an easy willingness to criticize the sport. Newman suggested if he was left alone for a few moments after his wreck instead of being instantly forced to answer questions, he might have cooled down and not been so quick to pop off.

"When you get a microphone stuck in your face when the adrenaline's still rushing, don't expect everything to be positive," Newman said.

Or, he could have said "no comment."

Hamlin said he was punished for comments he made on Twitter. He also did not reveal the amount of the fine.

People familiar with the penalties told the AP this week fines were levied because the comments were considered disparaging to the sport. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because NASCAR was not publicly identifying the topflight drivers it fined. They say one driver was penalized as much as $50,000.

Newman said the penalties are "behind me. It's behind Denny right now." He was frustrated about the fine "because I didn't understand what it was or why it was."

Hamlin understood why he was fined.

"Whether you agree with it or not, it happened. They're in control," he said.

The decision to fine competitors for critical comments puts NASCAR in line with many other professional sports leagues. The NFL and NBA both routinely issue fines for criticism of officiating.

"Other sports do the same thing, they just do it in different ways," Newman said.

It also backs up NASCAR's season-long effort to rebuild the slumping sport through an improved on-track product and off-track promotion from its drivers.

"We're all in it together, and I understand that," Hamlin said. "I definitely understand, I don't really know what it was, but more than likely it was the Twitter comments more than anything that kind of got me in trouble with them."

What irked fans and others in the sport was how NASCAR handled the fines. There was no press release or public announcement. They handled it privately in an era where most news leaks out somehow anyway.

Drivers seemed to support the discretion in the decision.

"The secret part of it is a good thing," Newman said. "That's what people need to understand. I don't want to talk about the negative, NASCAR doesn't want to talk about the negative. There are people in the garage area that want to talk about the negative aspects of our sport and that's not good."

Four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson knows it's a tricky balance for a driver to speak his mind and not blast the sport.

"NASCAR is just trying to help up us, not hurt ourselves," he said.

Tony Stewart, who owns Newman's car, had no prior knowledge of the fine. The two-time Cup champion blamed the media for some of the woes that have hit the sport, like sagging attendance and declining television ratings.

"When you finally tell someone that the racing is bad enough, long enough, you're going to convince people that it really is," he said. "The result of that is not having as many people in the grandstand because of that."

He said everyone from drivers to owners to promoters to the media play a role in NASCAR's success or failure. But it's not the media's role to act as cheerleaders for the sport, only to report and analyze the news.

"Everybody sitting here and listening to this right now makes a living off this sport, myself included, and we're all shooting ourselves in the foot because we're convincing some of these people that this stuff is bad," he said.

Juan Pablo Montoya might be on the right track. Asked why he didn't speak to the media after a wreck took him out late at the Brickyard, Montoya said he wasn't in the right mood.

"You'll say something dumb and regret it," he said.

Stewart takes Pocono pole

Tony Stewart unbuttoned the top button on his racing suit and let out a sigh.

Qualifying for the pole always makes a trip to Pocono Raceway more fun. Stewart zipped his No. 14 Chevy for a qualifying lap Friday of 171.393 mph around the 2.5-mile triangle track to start from the top for Sunday's Pennsylvania 500.

"Man, it felt good," Stewart said. "If you want a place where you want good track position, it's here at Pocono."

Juan Pablo Montoya will start second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race for an impressive follow-up to last week's pole start but disappointing 32nd-place finish at the Brickyard 400.

Hamlin will start third as he tries to sweep both Pocono races. Hamlin won the Pocono 500 in June.

They'll both have to get past Stewart first, who's got a little experience with starting up front at the Tricky Triangle.

Stewart started the June race in sixth place and finished third. He was awarded the pole at the two Pocono stops in 2009 after rainouts washed out qualifying.

This time, Stewart sped his way to the top. He said he felt good going around the first two turns before thinking he hit a rough spot around Turn 3.

"I felt like I might have lost a little bit of time there, but we got through there pretty good, too apparently. Better than I thought, I guess," Stewart said.

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