BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin's recent refusal to pay his $25,000 fine has reawakened the plight of Carl Long, a driver who lacks the financial resources to settle his debt with NASCAR.
Long's career as a Sprint Cup series driver essentially ended when his team was penalized for having an illegal engine at the 2009 All-Star race. Long's crew chief was fined $200,000, an amount he was unable to pay.
Under NASCAR rules, the fine was reverted to the car owner, which was Long's wife, DeeDee. Unable to drive until the fine is paid, Long could still work in the Sprint Cup garage because his wife was technically responsible for settling the debt. But last year, Long said NASCAR transferred the fine to his name, so he was barred from the garage.
"Last year at Daytona, they issued me as the driver the fine, and I couldn't pay $200,000, so I was escorted out of the Cup garage," Long said recently at Bristol Motor Speedway. "NASCAR basically let me know that anybody on the crew roster could be held responsible for the fine, all the way down to the tire guy."
Long, 45, can work in any other NASCAR series, and he's now a jack of all trades for Rick Ware Racing in the Nationwide series. He's also a part-time driver in the No. 2 stock car series and has made 37 starts since the All-Star race incident.
But he said he's clearing just more than $35,000 a year after paying all his expenses, which means he'll likely never be back in a Sprint Cup car.
Hamlin was fined $25,000 last week for criticizing NASCAR's new Gen-6 car and angrily said he'll be suspended before he'll pay. He has since said he won't appeal the fine — but he has no intention of writing a check, and NASCAR has indicated it will garnish the money from Hamlin's winnings.
Long could have gone a similar route, but he wasn't a full-time Cup racer — and it would have taken him years to pay off the $200,000.
"The fact is, regardless, (Hamlin) can pay the $25,000 and keep going," Long said. "It's like us losing $100."
Long remains upbeat and even has a marketing plan he believes could get him back into Sprint Cup someday if he could convince a sponsor his idea is good.
"The first thing that I tell them is look, 'You give me a million and a half dollars, $2 million dollars to run the Nationwide series and run a couple of Cup races, and the first thing we'll do is we'll take $200,000, make a press release, give the NASCAR Foundation a $200,000 check and you'll make all the sports pages across the United States,'" Long said.
Aside from that, Long would do any sort of community service NASCAR asked of him to get back into the Cup garage.
"I'll golf in some charity tournaments, I'll work anywhere they want me to," he laughed. "I just don't know which avenue to take."