Who needs a “Game 7” moment? Kansas Speedway was only the fifth of 10 Chase races and arguably the most dramatic moment of the season has taken place. No one was surprised to see Joey Logano or Matt Kenseth at the front of the field at Kansas Speedway. Logano was the previous week’s winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Kenseth has been fast all season with five race victories (including two poles and one race win in the prior three weeks).
However, it was a bit surprising to see Logano spin Kenseth for the victory with just a handful of laps remaining in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Of course this was the sort of incident where everyone has an opinion. Either they were okay with Logano’s move because Kenseth had been blocking Logano throughout the race, or they’re upset about the move because it seemed like a blatant dump on Logano’s end.
I said on social media that I didn’t think Logano meant to spin Kenseth or “dump” him… he just didn’t do anything to avoid it. I maintain that standpoint even after Logano’s comments, even though Kenseth says that he thinks Logano “absolutely, 100%” wrecked him on purpose. If you weren’t able to catch what Logano had to say, here it is:
“It was just hard racing,” said Logano. “He raced me really hard. I raced him the same way he raced me. It was a lot of fun out there racing for a win like that. The cars were very fast, equally paired and I couldn’t be more proud of what this Shell/Pennzoil team is doing right now. We’re such a fast racecar, such a great team. We’ve showed it two weeks in a row now and this is a lot of fun. We’ve just got to ride this wave and we’ve got to get to Homestead still.”
“We were just going for the same piece of real estate,” he said later, denying that the spin was intentional.
The reason I still believe him is because it seemed pretty obvious Logano wasn’t going to let off the gas to avoid making contact with Kenseth. He was going in for the kill and whatever happened, happened. That sounds awesome on paper, but resulted in the No. 20 of Kenseth going around in the exit of turn 2, handing the lead and eventual race win to Logano.
Kenseth was, obviously, very frustrated with the incident but responded in the same calm manner that is normally expected from him.
“It’s hard to drive a car with the rear tires off the ground,” Kenseth deadpanned after the race. “I was moving around the best I could, Joey [Logano] was a lot tighter, a lot faster on the short run, but we were so much better on the long run. I could still kind of get up to the top and get a run and get around him. We caught those two lapped cars, ‘Crazy’ (spotter) told me I was clear and I was, I pulled up in front of him and he just lifted my tires off the ground and he wrecked us.”
Kenseth maintained all week long leading into Kansas that, despite a rough weekend in Charlotte, he didn’t consider himself to be in a “must-win” situation for Kansas in order to advance to the Eliminator Round even with Talladega looming large. Now, however, I don’t think there is any question. Kenseth now finds himself 35 points out of the eighth position (the cutoff point for the next round). Kenseth could win at Talladega, but that track is a completely different animal than Kansas Speedway. Kansas is a track that usually shows one or two drivers dominate. Talladega is one where positions are changing hands almost constantly, and wrecks tend to be huge and unpredictable.
Clearly, Kansas had a huge impact on the Chase, considering that Kenseth was easily one of the favorites for the championship. Now he might not make it because of a slight tap from the bumper of the No. 22.
However, what made the incident a little more difficult to swallow was the fact that, had the situation been reversed, it’s hard to imagine Kenseth would have done the same thing. Kenseth will race you hard, but I don’t think any of his competitors would describe him as a “dirty” driver or an overly aggressive driver. I can’t think of too many incidents where he has intentionally wrecked another competitor (though there are a few), even when it might have been warranted. Sure, the argument can be made that Kenseth would have been aggravated with Logano had he been “fenced” (as Logano put it) twice while battling for the lead.
Watching the replay, though, Logano was right on Kenseth’s bumper heading into turn one all the way into the middle of the corner where the No. 20 finally spun. I have a really hard time picturing the same result when the numbers are reversed.
“I don’t know surprised, I’m really disappointed,” Kenseth continued about the incident. “I’ve probably been one of his (Joey Logano) biggest supporters. It was an awkward thing obviously taking his ride and I was excited for him when he started winning at Penske and when he got that ride and even found him today and congratulated him about racing against each other for a championship. I thought that I was very disappointed that he would do that, especially he was already in – didn’t run into him. Yeah, I was running the lane he wanted to run in, but my goodness isn’t this racing? Strategically I think it wasn’t the smartest move on his part. He’ll probably sleep good tonight, I hope he enjoys that one. It’s not what I would have done, but he had a decision to make and that’s the one he made.”
We heard a lot this week about potential paybacks between drivers based on some incidents that happened in Charlotte. Now, there will be some question as to whether or not Kenseth will pay Logano back for Kansas, especially if Kenseth fails to advance to the next round.
Honestly, I have to think that probably won’t be the case. Again, Kenseth just isn’t the type for payback and likely won’t want to interfere with the championship if Logano remains in contention until the end. But, again, that’s part of what made the situation feel… I don’t know… unfulfilled? Kenseth might have raced with more aggression than normal — partially because of the situation he was in — but that certainly doesn’t lend itself to a complete turnaround.
“That’s hard to say, you always race people like you’d like to be raced, that’s what I try to do until that changes and then you race them how they race you,” said Kenseth when he was asked how he would race Logano in future races. “I don’t know, that’s all hypothetical so I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to go onto Talladega and try to do what we can there and then after that we’ll go to the next one and do what we can there.”
I’m not even trying to say that Logano’s claims were unsubstantiated. Kenseth did block Logano on several occasions, especially in that final battle for the lead. I don’t love blocking either, but what exactly was he supposed to do? Just let him go? Give him room?
For the win, in a victory that would have propelled Kenseth onto the next round, no questions asked?
I don’t think so. Sorry, but that’s crap. Again, reverse the situation, and suddenly Logano is going to be blocking as if his life depends on it. He’s going to be blocking so much that, admittedly, yes it probably would have tested the patience of Kenseth (or whoever).
That’s kind of the point, though, isn’t it? If you throw a block, you risk getting wrecked, but that doesn’t mean the other driver bears no responsibility. And if you’re racing for the win, you certainly aren’t obligated to give the other person room. The battle between Kenseth and Kyle Busch in the Xfinity Series race the day before is proof enough of that, and Busch beat Kenseth by out-racing him, not by spinning him.
I enjoy a good race as much as anyone, but it feels a bit cheapened when one guys spins another out. It doesn’t really require any talent on the part of the other driver to do that. It’s much more exciting to see him work for it. Logano had a right to go for the position and Kenseth had the right to hold it. The difference is Logano didn’t try and stop the contact while you have to think that Kenseth would have.