Why NASCAR Has Yet to Penalize William Byron for Intentionally Hitting Denny Hamlin at Texas

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

NASCAR hasn’t publicly announced any penalties against William Byron in light of his intentional contact against Danny Hamlin on Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The Championship Playoff contenders knocked around each other a bit during the AutoTrader 500, the first race in the Round of 12 for the Cup Series title.

As usual in these cases, both Chevrolet-driving Byron for Hendrick Motorsports and Toyota-driving Hamlin for Joe Gibbs Racing thought they were right. The disagreement began early in the race, when Hamlin reportedly forced Byron against the wall in Turn 2. The incident wasn’t considered a big deal at the time; hardly noticeable, in fact.

Much later, at lap 269, leader Martin Truex Jr. blew a tire and spun through Turns 3-4. When second-running Hamlin slowed for the caution lights, third-running Byron plowed into him as payback for the earlier incident. Hamlin spun harmlessly across the trioval grass and NASCAR did not give him his original spot or penalize Byron for rough driving.

Scott Miller, the NASCAR vice-president of competition, admitted he and his staff in the race control tower missed the incident. “We were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution and dispatching our equipment,” he said after the race. “We had no eyes on the William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing. We (just) saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green. I’m not sure the issue is completely resolved as of yet. We’ll be looking at that when we get back to work.”

Miller offered several things officials could have done if they’d seen Byron hit Hamlin. “If we had seen that good enough to react in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” Miller explained. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was (running second) or made William (third at the time) restart in the back.”

Byron told reporters he was fortunate to finish as well as he did. “Denny ran me out of room and bent the toe link, so we’re lucky we finished,” he said after surviving to finish seventh, well behind winner Tyler Reddick. “It was really hard contact … not like a light contact or something like that. And again, look, I thought we were going to be done.”

With the evidence too obvious to ignore, Byron admitted to intentionally hitting Hamlin. The situation is muddled somewhat by the lack of evidence that Hamlin pushed Byron into the wall earlier in the race.

“I don’t know what it was all about,” Byron said of the earlier incident with Hamlin. “The 19 (Truex Jr.) took away (Hamlin’s) air and Hamlin ran out of race track. So, he chose to run me out of race track completely (pushing Byron toward the Turn 2 wall).

“I didn’t mean to spin him out, but I’m mad and not going to get raced like that. We have always raced so well together. Obviously, when he was spinning out I was like, ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Moments later, he changed his story: “I don’t know if I spun him intentionally,” he said. Then, a moment later: “I mean, obviously, yeah. I went to show my displeasure (but) didn’t mean to spin him out. There are a ton of guys that do this; you see it all the time. But yeah, I’m not going to get run like that; there’s really no reason. It was uncalled for and I feel like we’ve handled it.”

On Hamlin’s part:

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution (so) I tried to wreck him back,” he said after finishing 10th. “I don't think we touched; I’ve got to look. You know, I keep hearing these guys. I’ll add it to the list of guys when I get a chance. They’re going to get it.” (Hamlin had a highly publicized incident with Ross Chastain in the spring at St. Louis. He vowed on the spot that when he least expects it, Chastain will suffer payback for St. Louis).

“It all works itself out,” Hamlin said. “We'll be racing each other at some point and (Byron) will lose a lot of spots because he’s racing me. This is hard racing, obviously, and I’m fine with hard racing. But wrecking me under caution is obviously not what we were bargaining for.”