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Sprint Cup Drivers Council delivers message to NASCAR on Tony Stewart fine

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TOYOTA OWNERS 400 - Practice

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 22: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, speaks to the media after a practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TOYOTA OWNERS 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 22, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin said that the Sprint Cup Drivers Council wanted to send a message Thursday night with its statement about NASCAR fining Tony Stewart $35,000.

“We don’t want to be so politically correct all the time and filter our thoughts,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “Sometimes you just want to say what you feel, and we feel you should able to do that at times.

“I think (the statement) was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR … that ‘Hey, we just believe we should have the right to speak our opinion.’ ’’

Stewart did and NASCAR reacted.

Other than issuing the fine, NASCAR has not commented on Stewart’s plea for officials to address the matter of teams not tightening five lug nuts on each wheel during a pit stop. Hamlin said he’s not heard from series officials since issuing the statement to NBC Sports late Thursday night.

The statement by the Drivers Council marked the first time that the 11-month old group has directed a comment against NASCAR on any matter.

The group was formed last May to work with NASCAR on various issues to make the sport better. As the group develops, it’s expanding its reach.

“It just shows solidarity that we’re all in this together as drivers and we want to have one voice because that one voice is going to be, obviously, a little bit louder and clearer to NASCAR when we go into meetings, talking about where the sport is going to head,’’ Hamlin said.

Some drivers not on the Council said they appreciated the group’s stance defending Stewart and agreeing to pay his fine.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. told NBC Sports on Friday that the Council continues to work with NASCAR on issues despite this disagreement. Earnhardt, a Council member, said the group is scheduled to meet with NASCAR next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I don’t think we are trying to go to battle with NASCAR over anything in particular,’’ Earnhardt said. “The statement says it pretty clearly. We’re got a meeting coming up and … we’re still looking forward to talking out a lot of things we’ve been working on.

“Still some good dialogue going on to prepare for that meeting between us and NASCAR. I don’t think this was really anything other than what the statement said. I don’t think it was us putting our foot down or trying to get in NASCAR’s way. We just didn’t really agree with what they did there in that particular instance.’’

NASCAR fined Stewart a day after he made comments about loose wheels because not all lug nuts are being tightened.

While NASCAR has not regulated how many lug nuts teams need to tighten since the beginning of last year, the issue of loose wheels has grown the past two weeks with teams of Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, among others, having such issues.

“I’m P.O.’d at NASCAR about it, to be honest,’’ Stewart said this week. “For all the work and everything and all the bulletins and all the new stuff that we have to do to superspeedway cars and all these other things that they want us to do for safety, but we can’t even make sure that we put five lug nuts on the wheel. It’s not even mandatory anymore.

“It used to be mandatory. Now all of a sudden, it’s a smart thing to not dictate. I mean, you don’t have to have but one on there if you don’t want. It’s however many you think you can get away with. So we’re putting the drivers in jeopardy to get track position at the end. It’s not bit anybody yet, but I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt.’’

While NASCAR fined Stewart, it had no action for Greg Biffle, who called the issue of teams not tightening all five lug nuts a “ticking time bomb’’ in an interview Thursday with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Biffle told NBC Sports on Friday that he had not been contacted by any NASCAR officials about his comments.

“It’s my opinion,’’ said Biffle, who was a Sprint Cup Drivers Council member last year but is not this year. “I’m just concerned about a wheel coming off like everybody else is and I really don’t feel it’s a competitiveness thing if we all have to have five or we all have to have three, there’s no advantage to that, or four.’’

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