Summer Bedgood · Monday July 1, 2013
Restarts and Jimmie Johnson haven’t been the best of friends in 2013. Kentucky Speedway was another round in the battle between Johnson’s opinion on restarts and NASCAR’s rules, and this time Matt Kenseth was the target of his latest rant. A late race restart in which a final pit stop gamble put Matt Kenseth up front with no tires and Jimmie Johnson next to him with two fresh tires; Johnson seemed to falter a bit on the restart and wound up spinning later on with those older left rubbers.
One would just assume that Johnson is not infallible and sometimes has his moments. He screwed up the restart, spun later on, and that was that. Get up, move on, that’s the end of it. But, if you listen to Johnson, it was all the fault of Kenseth and NASCAR.
“The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) broke the pace car speed, which you aren’t supposed to,” said Johnson, “but, they aren’t calling guys on that so I need to start trying that in the future.”
So not only was Kenseth cheating on the restart … apparently NASCAR was letting him get away with it. Call me crazy, but isn’t it Johnson that was handed all of those championships by NASCAR (if the fans are to be believed)? Isn’t he the golden boy of the sport?
Kenseth, of course, was having none of it.
“I have no idea what happened or what happened to him or what I possibly could have done to upset him,” said Kenseth. “I certainly didn’t feel like I did anything wrong from where I was, but you know, after dominating all day and you have a problem at the end, it’s always — I imagine it’s frustrating. We’ve been there, too.”
It’s expected that Kenseth takes the high road. He’s known for his level head and “elder statesman” type analysis of everything that happens in this sport, even if he is still only 41 years old. As such, it wasn’t surprising that Kenseth didn’t get defensive when he heard of Johnson’s accusations, but rather offered up a rational explanation of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.
“When I got ready for the restart, we were on top and we were the leader, so it’s anywhere in that box we can start the race and when the pace car peeled off, I felt like I went the same pace,” Kenseth explained. “I didn’t check my tach when the pace car went off if we were exactly the same pace, but I think you can look through data and see I didn’t slow down.
“Really at that point you try to watch the guy inside you and try to make sure he doesn’t lay back and try to get a run at you, and tried to keep him right by my door,” Kenseth continued, “and when I got to the box, I went. And from there, I don’t really know what happened.”
That seems to be a perfectly reasonable explanation. After all, it is the job of the leader to try and get a good restart within the zone that NASCAR allows, and though Kenseth isn’t known for being the best “restarter” in NASCAR, his experience certainly helps in high pressure situations such as that crucial restart this weekend in Kentucky.
Surprisingly, though, the equally, if not moreso, accomplished and experienced Johnson just can’t seem to get a grip this year. Though not all of his issues this season have been restart related, these complaints date back to at least Dover when he was black-flagged for jumping the start with just a few laps to go. Frustrated by NASCAR’s call and subsequent explanation, Johnson followed up the next week by screwing up a restart in order to “avoid a penalty” and prove a point to NASCAR on the wording of their calls.
I think it’s safe to say that NASCAR won that one, considering Johnson finished 28th in that race and NASCAR all but ignored the dramatic protest over the radio and later on in the garage area post-race.
“It’s an interesting scenario,” the five-time champion said after Michigan. “The distance outside the restart box to the start-finish line, that area is something that needs to be addressed. There’s a game to be played there and you can cause a heck of a pileup and take out 15-20 cars if you’re trying to give them (spots) back.”
Now, this weekend in Kentucky, a terrible restart of his own doing is somehow the fault of another driver and the sanctioning body’s decision on how to navigate these restarts.
Most of the time, I would listen to what the most dominant active driver has to say and ponder its relevancy, perhaps even urge NASCAR to listen because of his valuable experience. In this case, though, Johnson is wrong. When he is the only driver of all 42 on track who consistently has problems with the restarts and NASCAR’s rulings, isn’t it then time to perhaps look inward for the problem? Sure there have been issues with restarts in the past with drivers other than Johnson and controversy is a part of the sport. There might even be a valid argument that NASCAR needs to consider revising the sometimes confusing and shaky restart format.
But for Johnson to consistently and irrevocably be asserting there is some sort of problem when no other driver is consistently backing him up, it’s hard to think anything other than that Johnson is whining and being a sore loser.
At the risk of not fairly covering both sides of the story, however, there was one other driver who did think the restarts were a little strange in Kentucky …. Second-place finisher Jamie McMurray.
“Honestly I thought the restarts, when you can see where the timing, or the go lines are, I thought they were strange all day long,” McMurray offered during his post-race press conference. “I don’t know if it’s just the way the track is laid out, but I could see when the leaders would get to the first one, and it seemed like everything would stack up around that area. I don’t know if it’s because everybody was trying to anticipate it, but I could see when the leaders would get to the first one and it seemed like everything kind of would stack up around that area, but I don’t think that one stuck out, though.”
So, in fairness, McMurray noticed something was strange too. However, he wasn’t crying foul, he wasn’t accusing anyone of anything and, most importantly, he wasn’t whining. Similar to Kenseth’s low key explanation for the restart, McMurray too offered a rational explanation as to what he thought was strange about the restarts, a completely innocent answer to a question that actually holds some merit.
Johnson, somehow, comes off less authoritative and more bitter. Less elder statesman and more Kyle Busch after finishing second.
The phrase “shut up and drive” comes to mind. If Johnson wants to offer a way to fix the restarts or explain his concerns in a more direct manner rather than resorting to childish accusations, perhaps then NASCAR and everyone else will be willing to listen.
Until (and unless) that happens, congratulations to Matt Kenseth on his second career Sprint Cup Series championship.
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