Denny Hamlin: I don’t believe Keselowski should’ve gotten tougher penalty

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The genesis of last weekend’s post-race mayhem at Charlotte Motor Speedway was Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski’s hard racing off a restart with two laps to go.

That led to Hamlin brake-checking Keselowski on the cool-down lap, and Keselowski trying to spin Hamlin (and failing to do so) in Turn 3. Upon leaving pit road, Hamlin then chased Keselowski through a garage area and was held back by crew members as he voiced his displeasure with the 2012 Cup champion.

Keselowski was fined $50,000 and put on probation for four races, while Hamlin received no punishment at all.

Before post-Charlotte penalties were handed down on Tuesday by NASCAR, some observers had wondered if the sanctioning body would go as far as taking away championship points from Keselowski, Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth – Chase contenders all.

That did not come to pass, however, and today at Talladega, Hamlin said that Keselowski’s penalty was good enough from his perspective.

“I really don’t believe he deserved a stiffer penalty. You hate to put a points penalty [on]. Any monetary fine is a big deal. Even though people don’t think it is, it still comes out of his pocket, so that’s a big deal.

“Not only that, I’m sure there were discussions in the hauler about ‘This is our safe zone’ – a safe area that fans and potentially crew members are around. It’s kind of a zero tolerance policy inside the garage and on pit road.”

Kenseth, who was hit by Keselowski at the entrance of pit road after the Penske pilot’s first run-in with Hamlin, brought the tense situation to a climax when he attacked Keselowski between a pair of haulers.

However, like Hamlin, Kenseth went unpenalized. When asked if NASCAR had sent a message by not penalizing Kenseth, Hamlin noted that there was probably no other way he would have a chance to communicate with Keselowski – in whatever form.

“What else short of really just blindsiding and attacking him – how else are you gonna get to him?,” he said. “There’s so many crew guys, they won’t let you talk to him. He kinda did what he had to do, and really, in the video you can’t see any punches or anything. As far as I’m concerned, they were holding hands.”

And like Kenseth, Hamlin said he didn’t regret his actions on Saturday.

While slyly noting that the fact his crew members held him back was “kind of a bummer,” he insisted that he was simply trying to stop Keselowski from reaching his No. 2 crew.

“I didn’t ram into him on pit road,” he said. “If you watch, I just kept trying to box him in to where he couldn’t go anywhere. I talked to Brad and I told him that…I don’t feel like I did anything wrong, and obviously from the penalties, NASCAR didn’t feel like I did either.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.