Denny Hamlin wants a lifetime ban for those caught with illegal tires

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – If NASCAR determines wrongdoing with the tires sent to an independent laboratory for examination after the Auto Club 400, it could mean a six-race suspension for a crew chief.

Denny Hamlin doesn’t think that’s strong enough.

“If it’s out there and they know about it, you should be gone forever,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Friday after Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville Speedway. “That’s a major, major, major thing. This isn’t like the old rodeo days of being able to go out there and run a big motor or soak the tires. This is a professional sport and when people alter tires that’s a big, big deal.

“Definitely no room for it in the sport, that’s for sure. Hope they clamp down on that if they do find it, and if they find it multiple times with somebody, they should have a permanent vacation somewhere.”

Tire tampering was the talk of the Sprint Cup garage Friday in the wake of NASCAR confiscating the tires of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Defending series champion Harvick, who has eight consecutive top-two finishes, also had his tires taken by NASCAR (and cleared for wrongdoing) after the March 15 race at Phoenix International Raceway. Crew chief Rodney Childers bristled at suggestions that the No. 4 Chevrolet was altering its tires.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said he believed some teams were bleeding air from their tires, helping maintain an optimum air pressure that keeps speeds consistent over a long green-flag run.

Hamlin said the practice has “been going on for years and years. It’s just ramped up again here lately. When I say going on, just rumors and stuff, but people can only say something about you so much before it’s actually reality. And it’s reality. Things like this don’t keep getting brought up and said if it’s not actually happening. I’m not real close to it because we haven’t had our tires confiscated or anything like that. I wish we were running well enough for that to happen, but we haven’t.”

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Gordon, said it might be difficult to police whether teams are tampering with tires and suggested it might be wise for NASCAR to legalize bleeder valves.

But Hamlin said it could be monitored with enough effort.

“I think that it’s going to be a tough thing, from what I understand, for them to figure out whether it’s a natural leak or a drill-induced leak,” he said. “They’ll figure out a way, and whether it will be with someone else taking a look at the tires to try to figure it out, they’ll find it. And when they do, that person when they feel NASCAR getting hot on them, they’re going to stop doing it and that’s maybe when you’ll see some performance differences.”