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.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).