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Denny Hamlin Responds to Jeff Gordon: “Stunting Growth, Stunting Star Power”

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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Jeff Gordon made some eyebrow-raising comments last week saying that he does not want any of his drivers to build their brand like Denny Hamlin because it is “too controversial”. Well, Denny Hamlin had an opportunity to respond in his podcast “Actions Detrimental” (at around the 22-minute mark), and Hamlin took exception to those comments.

He said, “That is stunting growth. That is stunting star power”, and later said that drivers will “never get seen” because owners do not allow drivers to express themselves as Hamlin does. Is what Hamlin said true?

Do Owner’s Mentalities like Gordon Stunt Star Power?

Over the last few years in NASCAR, particularly the newest generation of drivers, many complain that modern drivers do not have much of a personality at least in the public eye. Look back on some of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, and they all had unique personalities. Dale Earnhardt and his “Intimidator” Persona, Richard Petty and his “The King” persona, and even look at Tony Stewart and how much personality he had.

Fans enjoy drivers who are not afraid to be themselves. When that basic idea of drivers showcasing their personalities is seen as a bad thing, it can be seen as a detriment to the sport. Now, the thing here is, is the driver who is being controversial the only driver who shows personality on the race track? There are drivers who have incredible personalities that are still corporate-friendly and not controversial just like Jeff Gordon wants.

Look at Richard Petty, who has the most squeaky-clean image in NASCAR, and he is chock full of personality with his iconic cowboy hat and sunglasses look. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the sport’s most popular driver, and he has loads of personality.

This shows that a driver can “Be themself” and build an incredibly appealing brand without being controversial. It seems that this is what Gordon was likely trying to get at. However, if a driver is naturally someone who is a bit more controversial while also winning races and making sponsors happy, then mitigating their personality may be seen as detrimental to the sport by some.

How Much of it is Driver and How Much is Owner?

Denny Hamlin hypothesized that many drivers are having their personalities stunted by owners who are telling them not to say certain things in the media. Again, it is worth noting that a distinction can be made between what exactly is happening. Are owners asking their drivers not to be idiots, or are they asking their drivers to become corporate robots? Better yet, how many drivers want to build their brand the way Denny Hamlin has?

Some drivers have more quiet personalities, and they prefer letting their actions on the track speak for themself. Martin Truex Jr. is one example of this. He is not someone who will go out saying much in the media, but he will drive well and bring home wins on Sunday afternoons.

Hamlin theorizes that there are drivers who have the personalities to be superstars, but the team owners tell them not to speak out. Again, it all comes down to what owners are really asking them to do. Drivers do have to be reasonable and make sure they still maintain a certain level of professionalism to keep their team and sponsors happy.

However, there is something to be said for drivers who are able to be unapologetically themselves that many fans can relate to. If that is taken away, then that is a problem.

At the end of the day, we don’t know exactly what it is that happens behind the scenes, but, there could be merit to what Hamlin is saying. If drivers are not allowed to let their unique personalities shine, then that is a problem. However, at what point do the owners need to step in to make sure the drivers still maintain the professionalism needed for sponsors and their own brand?

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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