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NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Hamlin is allowed to appeal his fine, and NASCAR apparently isn’t in a rush to collect it. Section 12 of the NASCAR rule book states fines must be paid “promptly,” but gives no specific timeframe, and says unpaid fines “may result in suspension.”

Pemberton indicated nothing would happen this weekend or any time soon.

“We give them quite a bit of latitude, but you can’t slam the racing,” Pemberton said. “You can’t slam your product. That’s where it crosses a line.”

NASCAR’s decision on Hamlin’s remarks surprised many drivers, leaving them uncertain what they could say. When Clint Bowyer was asked how Thursday’s test went in his Toyota Camry, he put on a humorously blank expression and replied: “It’s good. The car is good. Everything is very, very good.”

Jeff Burton also wasn’t sure how to react.

“I feel like it’s a little bit of an overreaction on NASCAR’s part,” Burton said. “I do understand there’s been a tremendous amount of effort that’s gone into building this car … and making racing more exciting to watch. In my eyes, this is the most work that’s ever been done to create a car for the fans. I’m sure that has something to do with the decision for the penalty. NASCAR has got to be careful not to be too strict on the drivers. I want to be able to be who we are.”

The Gen-6 car was developed by NASCAR last year with heavy input from the manufacturers to improve the on-track product. Drivers have been asked to be careful in how they publicly discuss the car, and NASCAR has put together a tremendous marketing effort in an attempt to avoid the poor reception the previous model received.

Fans never warmed up to the “Car of Tomorrow” in part because drivers panned it from the very beginning. Kyle Busch won the debut race in the “Car of Tomorrow” and blasted it in Victory Lane, and the car never stood a chance after that.

“We’re so early into it,” Pemberton said. “You’re making a mistake if you comment on the worst or the greatest racing ever. The first part of the season, we run on so many different racetracks, and we’re so busy. … Positive or negative, you cannot read too much into any of this stuff. This is a long-term deal here, years and years for this car.”

It’s not the first time Hamlin has been fined for voicing his opinion. NASCAR privately fined him in 2010 for posts he made on Twitter about cautions.

At the time, NASCAR was secretly fining drivers for making disparaging comments about the racing product, and Hamlin’s fine eventually became public as part of a push for the sanctioning body to be more transparent.

“I’m not going to say anything for the rest of the year, as long as it relates to competition,” Hamlin said. “I mean, you can ask me how my daughter is, talk to me after wins about what have you, but as long as it relates to competition, I’m out from here on out. The down part is I feel like I’ve been a pretty good spokesman for them, and being positive when things aren’t always positive. They just lost one small spokesman today, that’s all.”

It’s already been a busy season for NASCAR discipline. Last month, the governing body suspended Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements indefinitely for violating its code of conduct with an apparently insensitive remark to an MTV blogger. NASCAR sent Clements to work with a sports diversity expert before he’ll be allowed back in his car.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.