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Denny Hamlin says violation didn't aid victory in Southern 500

RICHMOND, Va. -- Denny Hamlin has accepted the punishment for his car having an illegal rear suspension after his win in the Southern 500 at Darlington. He even said he wouldn't mind if the penalty were harsher.

But what he won't say is that one piece not fitting NASCAR's tight measurements helped him win the race.

"I'd love to line them up again," Hamlin said Friday at Richmond Raceway. "That track is special to me. It was a special weekend.

"It took something that was super positive and turned it into a negative pretty quick."

Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Wheeler, was fined $50,000 and is serving a two-race suspension -- the regular-season finale this weekend at Richmond and the playoff opener next week at Chicagoland Raceway.

Hamlin was docked 25 regular-season points and also won't receive the five playoff points teams get for a win when points are reset for the first three rounds of the playoffs. Because the Joe Gibbs Racing driver already had a win this year, he remains qualified for the playoffs. Had he not won earlier this season, he wouldn't have been considered as having a win for playoff eligibility.

"We fight for every inch because there's speed there," Hamlin said. "This is a tough game and you've got to be willing to take the consequences when you pass over that line that gets drawn in the sand."

NASCAR found that Hamlin's truck trailing arm spacer was not flush with the pinion angle shim. Teams often push the limits in this area, and it was the same violation Joey Logano had after his win at Richmond in April. The rule is new this year, and Hamlin said he felt many cars would have failed tech -- "We build in tolerances, and that track ate up those tolerances," Hamlin said.

"We didn't start the race with an illegal car," Hamlin said. "It worked its way that way. It was so close, but so close doesn't matter. It was still over the line. ... Now we have a data point that we've got to build in a bigger tolerance for that racetrack because you hit walls, you get sand and dirt in all your joints and it loosens them up."

NASCAR informed teams Friday that violations of the rear suspension rule broken by Hamlin's team at Darlington and Logano's earlier this year at Richmond will now be penalized at the high end of the L1 penalty scale -- a 40-point penalty with a three-week crew-chief suspension and a $75,000 fine. The previous penalties have been 25 points, two-week suspension and $50,000 fine. Those finishes would continue to not be counted toward playoff eligibility.

In winning Darlington, Hamlin came back from a pit-road miscue to win, and his blistering speed forced then-leader Martin Truex Jr. to push his car to the point he blew a tire with less then three laps remaining.

"I can tell you that's not why he beat us," said Truex, whose team has an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. "If you build an illegal engine, that's cheating. ... Pushing the envelope on parts and pieces and sometimes things are out of tolerance, I don't consider that cheating.

"Sometimes you go too far; sometimes things unexpected happens."

With both Hamlin and Logano winning races with cars later being deemed illegal (as well as similar incidents in other national series), the social media buzz this week has centered on whether NASCAR should stop giving credit for wins if a car fails postrace tech inspection.

"We can talk about taking wins away," said Hamlin, who also said discussions with NASCAR have included whether previously earned playoff points should be part of penalties. "It's definitely a possibility.

"As long as it's the same for everyone ... I'm fine with taking wins away. Nothing wrong with that."

What concerns Hamlin is whether NASCAR will continue to enforce its rules when the playoffs start and a win automatically qualifies a driver for the next round. Under its rules, the violation would mean a driver wouldn't earn that automatic bid.

"That's what makes me nervous -- in the playoffs, is NASCAR going to do the same things when so much is on the line?" Hamlin said. "Obviously it's negative publicity for everyone involved."

The inspection Hamlin's car failed was done Tuesday at NASCAR's research center in North Carolina. It is done with a computerized rocker arm that can do much closer measurements than done at the track.

"Do you want to end the race and then wait three hours and let them tear down the car completely and then we go to Victory Lane and celebrate?" Logano said. "That isn't exciting. Everyone would be gone. There would be no stories. You can't do it that way.

"But we also need to have a fair race. We need to make sure we tear these cars apart and find what is right or wrong about the cars. I will say that the penalties handed out ... have been really small [violations]. To me they don't really affect the race itself. It is not like it has been a huge deal."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wouldn't mind NASCAR taking away the win, but since he's about to retire, he's not sure he should be the one advocating either way.

"There's only two things that matter in racing -- that's trophies and money," Earnhardt said. "Those are the things that are going to be a deterrent. Those are the things that are going to be impactful."