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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Reasons NASCAR Had to Penalize Matt Kenseth

NASCAR dropped the hammer Tuesday on Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth after Kenseth wrecked Joey Logano Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth, frustrated with Logano for a crash in Kansas plus his subsequent lack of remorse – and contact earlier in the race – slammed Logano into the turn 1 wall to effectively end his day. Kenseth was parked for the remainder of the race, a moot point since his No. 20 Toyota was destroyed in the incident. Well, Tuesday NASCAR announced that Kenseth had been suspended for two races and given six months probation as their response to the conflict. And while two races might lean toward the harsh side officials made the call that, ultimately, they had to make.

Here’s why:

1. Because of the Chase

The Chase – this Chase – changes everything.  It means the incident Sunday wasn’t just about Kenseth and Logano. Under a non-Chase system, it would have been about one driver trying to take away the title he felt was taken from him. But it’s not that simple anymore. While Logano may have taken away Kenseth’s title hopes, Logano’s were still alive. And, more than that, so were the title chances of two of Kenseth’s teammates, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. If Logano doesn’t win at Texas or Phoenix, it’s unlikely he’ll climb back into the final round, giving Busch and Edwards a better chance of making it in. Whether that thought even crossed Kenseth’s mind Sunday, and I’d venture to guess it did not, the move affected the championship.

Had NASCAR allowed Kenseth’s move to stand without repercussion it would have sent a message to other teams, loud and clear, that taking out the competition was acceptable. If, say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. still had a beef with Kevin Harvick from Talladega, it would be easy to knock him out of title contention, thereby eliminating one of the biggest threats to teammate Jeff Gordon’s hopes. Team owners could have dredged up every past issue with other drivers, team orders disguised as payback. That was a precedent which simply could not be set if integrity surrounding the title is to remain.

2. Because the two incidents were not the same.

What happened at Kansas and what went down at Martinsville aren’t even in the same ZIP code as far as severity. Kansas was a racing incident, one where Kenseth played a significant role. Blocking is perfectly legal, but doing it too many times usually ends up not working out very well for the blocker. Logano didn’t lift to avoid him; in the closing laps, racing for the win, why should he have backed off and let Kenseth go? It’s a huge stretch in my mind to see Logano causing an intentional wreck.

Take names out of it for a minute. You had two drivers racing for a win. One knew the other was faster and threw a block. Then, he threw another block. It came back to haunt him as the pair made contact; as a result, the other driver went on to win. That scenario has happened more times in NASCAR than anyone can count. Kenseth has been on the other end of the same type of incident, replicating the same behavior as Logano did in Kansas. He’s not the squeaky-clean sainthood candidate some would have you believe (the most infamous issue fans remember is a last-lap incident with Gordon at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2006 as both were battling for a top-five finish). To be honest, Kenseth’s bigger problem should be with Ryan Newman, the driver who at Charlotte put him in this must-win situation in the first place.

Was Logano a jerk not to at least reach out to Kenseth, if not apologize? Well, yeah, he was. But what Kenseth did in Martinsville was little other than thuggery disguised as justice. The move was blatantly intentional. Kenseth wasn’t in contention for the win; Logano was. Kenseth wasn’t even on the lead lap. Did he return to the track after his first incident of the day for no other reason than to wreck Logano, a la Edwards at Atlanta a few years ago? Maybe, maybe not. But his actions were cheap and unsportsmanlike regardless. Did Logano have it coming? Perhaps he needed a lesson taught to him for the arrogance displayed after Kansas; however, to call the incident an eye for an eye was way off base. More like two feet and an arm for an eye….

3. Because “Boys, have at it” doesn’t mean “boys, be complete thugs.”

Do people watch NASCAR for the crashes? I’m sure some of them do. And NASCAR acknowledged that to a degree with its “Boys, have at it” policy in recent years. There should be an aspect of self-policing to the sport. That’s good for all involved and drivers should never be afraid to race hard for a win.

But that does not mean there should never be a line in the sand. “He tapped me three weeks ago, so I’m going to end his day” toes that line on a good day. When it has very possible championship implications for the teammates of the driver in question, it leaps over that line. NASCAR has been pretty reasonable about letting drivers handle things both in and outside their cars, although there certainly have been inconsistencies, like fining just two of the drivers who had physical altercations last year, for instance. Kenseth forced the sanctioning body’s hand. Whether or not Logano had payback coming, it didn’t need to be that. Even taking the championship out of it, Logano could have been seriously hurt and so could someone else had they been involved in the aftermath. Yes, it’s happened at Martinsville. Drivers have lost their lives there; safety isn’t a given.

4. …And they made the right call on Danica, too.

No, Danica Patrick didn’t get the same penalty Kenseth did. And while she deserved what she got after attempting to wreck David Gilliland, she shouldn’t have tried in the first place.

So why no suspension? Neither Patrick nor Gilliland is in the Chase. Taking him out would not have helped Kurt Busch or Harvick. Also, Patrick did more damage to her own car than to Gilliland’s, thanks to the poor execution of her payback move, and that was punishment in itself.

The end result left NASCAR handing out a list of consequences ($50,000 fine, 25 points lost, probation) that fits somewhere in the middle. That’s perfect. Patrick has a temper and has tried to turn on others before, so she has a history. Plus, Kyle Busch was right when he said the name over the door matters. If you don’t drive clean, it will be noticed, and repeat offenders rarely fare well in any justice system. Not penalizing Patrick would have sent the wrong message to everyone; the penalty levied was fair.

5. Because… the Chase

This point just can’t be emphasized enough. At the end of the day, if you don’t like the penalty on Kenseth, don’t blame Logano. Blame the Chase and the can of worms opened by the elimination formats. Logano, who has earned more points than any other driver this season, would still have the point lead under a non-Chase tally, and that would make the incident much closer to no harm, no foul. There would have been no need for NASCAR to do anything more than fine Kenseth and dock him a few points. Instead, they created a system where team orders have the potential to be a disaster and they had to take a stand to keep that from happening. Even two years ago, when Gordon dumped Clint Bowyer after Bowyer wrecked him one too many times was a less detrimental incident to the sport. Bowyer went on to beat the car Gordon owns for the runner-up spot in the standings.

Before the Chase, especially this version, it would have been all about Kenseth and Logano. Instead, the current system makes it about Kyle Busch and Edwards and the teammates of every Chase driver as well. Kenseth and Logano could have policed each other if the Chase didn’t exist. Kenseth’s move would have been marginally acceptable (low class, but more acceptable) would it not have had the potential to move two of his teammates forward. Instead, because it does, NASCAR made the call they had to make when they lowered the boom on Kenseth. The championship is enough of a game of chance without being a team orders free-for-all. NASCAR had to put an end to that before it started. Before the Chase, the incident was a blip on the radar. NASCAR’s flawed system blew it up to epic proportions.

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23 thoughts on “The Frontstretch 5: Reasons NASCAR Had to Penalize Matt Kenseth”

  1. Matt Kenseth excuse list:

    1#–Saying Logano did a “crash” to Kenseth at Kansas, does not make it any more true when the word “wreck” was used. No wall hit, no debris, no damage. A half spin. No mention of course (as usual during this drama) that Matt pulled the same thing the week before with Newman and it did not work out for him there either. The whole picture is always appreciated.

    2#—“Logano’s lack of remorse” He did not bow and say sorry. He exclaimed correctly “I raced him the way he raced me”. Never mind his “elders” did everything and anything including Batty Matty, without a word. But Logano seems to need kneepads.

    3#—Logano did not “take away Kenseth’s title hopes”, Matt started that slide the week before.

    $#–Logano was a jerk for not trying to make it right. I say bull. He used to say he was sorry if it was raining in Peru, and he had nothing to do with the what happened on the track. In fact the “elders” counted on him saying…’gee it was my fault”. Do you think that given’s Matt’s instability in his head that would have made nice? Get in the real world.

    Nascar got it right, I wish it was for the whole season. I do not believe many fans are unable to articulate the difference of Kansas and Sunday. Sad commentary on who they want as their fans, but to their credit the did not cave to the social media “polls”. The same fans that felt Logano should have let Matt win are the same morons who are mad that they had the 70% poll favoring Kenseth..and they didn’t listen to them. That nonsense right there is why in matters like this I shun and abhor social media.

    If this had been Junior that Matt punted (the drivers know not to rough Junior, he is truly protected) the tide of fan sentiment would have been 1000 degrees in the opposite direction. Duh, and fans don’t see why in these instances there demands are not met!!!!!!!!!!!

    Logano is now the focal point of all sorts of vial things, not unexpected. I blame the system for sure, but I also blame Matt for his conduct the last 3 races that he had control over, and as a 43 year old man..has yet to admit it. Shame on him. Is he ready for golf and retirement?

    • No matter how you look at it, your precious Joey has driven like a thug without remorse on more than one occasion. Denny Hamlin still owes him a big one for breaking his back a couple years ago.

    • kb… Your points were well articulated and spot on.

      spot1… while Joey may have become a more aggressive driver in recent years, he drives no more aggressively than any of the JGR drivers. As for Denny’s back problems, go back and look at what happened in Fontana that day… or if you preferr, here’s the recap from Wikipedia…

      “(At Bristol) Controversy unfolded after Hamlin spun his ex-teammate Joey Logano battling for position. This resulted in Hamlin and Logano exchanging words in the garage after the race. At Fontana, Hamlin won his first pole for 2013. On the final restart Hamlin restarted in 12th place and with 12 laps left Hamlin reached third place before passing Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch for the top 2 spots with Joey Logano. His rivalry with Logano continued as the two fought side-by-side for the win in the last two laps. Heading into turn 3 on the white flag lap, neither driver wanted to lift and bumped each other. Logano attempted to block Hamlin and was sent up into the outside wall, while Hamlin came off the banking and smashed head-on into an inside retaining wall. Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch passed them to win the race.”

      • Carl: You could write a review for Wikipedia as that’s the type of website it is. Now, go back to Youtube or somewhere and watch the video. Coming for the white flag off turn four, Logano is blocking like a madman and gets loose and Denny tags him, nothing happens. Coming off turn two, Denny is on the outside and they sideslap a little. In turn three, Hamlin, still on the outside, starts edging ahead. That’s when Joey pops him a good one in the left side, they both go up the track and make more contact and Logano goes into the wall and Denny spins down to the inside wall. It’s plain as day to me, Logano figured if he wasn’t going to win, neither was Hamlin.

        • Since my memory isn’t what it used to be, I did as you suggested and watched the youtube video. I guess we see what we want to see. I see incidental contact as a result of hard racing on the last lap between two drivers going for the win. Joey never “popped him a good one” as you put it. Hamlin’s crash was a result his front fender making contact with the back of Logano’s car.

          I stand by my contention that Logano is no more a “thug” than the four drivers at JGR, Hamlin included, and I find it amusing that anyone could defend those drivers as being victims of aggressiveness by other drivers. Pot, meet kettle.

          • Now Carl, don’t get me wrong, as I cannot stand some of the Gibbs drivers but my bone is that Joey is not an innocent victim like a few on here portray him to be (see Ricky Craven/ESPN rant). And my interest in NA$CAR is dropping to the point where I’m not sure I’ll even watch a lap of this weekend’s craptacular show at Texas. NA$CRAP seems to want everything going both ways. Either “boys, have at it” is still in play or it’s not. You can’t punish someone for giving you what you want.

  2. I agree with all your points Amy. I think you are right on.
    Only people who are totally blinded by their love for one driver or the other will have a problem with your logic.

  3. “The chase is enough of a game of chance.” Right there is the best reason I have for hating the whole thing.

    Winning the championship should be about skill, perserverance and solid work all season – not a game of chance.

  4. You make excellent points, Amy. I’m not a huge fan of either Joey Logano or Matt Kenseth (though I will admit to favoring Logano a bit simply because Kevin Harvick doesn’t like him and he drives for Roger Penske). I see this issue like you do… it’s a question of what behaviors are over the line and unacceptable. No one wants Nascar to be a gentlemanly parade, and contact… “rubbing”… has always been a part of the sport’s history. Still, there has to be a limit.
    Your words – “What happened at Kansas and what went down at Martinsville aren’t even in the same ZIP code as far as severity” – should be obvious to everyone but the most biased of fans. Wherever you draw the line, Kenseth was clearly over it by a country mile. His suspension was well-deserved. I hope JGR’s appeal is denied, otherwise it’s “anything goes” and that’s not only unacceptable, it’s a downright dangerous road for Nascar to take going forward.
    Some fans blame this whole mess on the chase. While I loathe the chase, it’s not an excuse for a driver to intentionally cross the line into unacceptable behavior. No, Matt Kenseth has only himself to blame for his suspension.

    • Yeah – i’m not a fan of Logano’s at all – and i think he wronged. Matt K just did exactly what he said he’d do in the post race interview after Kansas. He blocked Logano at Kansas, and as the one who blocks – get ready to be moved – pretty much ALL the drivers say “it’s your right to block, and it’s my right to move you if you do” I think that’s AWESOME.

      What’s not awesome is intentionally wrecking someone – if he had a beef that day with anyone – it’s with BK – and he should have gone over to him and manned up – thrown some fists or whatever – and just moved on. It’s a s#it move what he did to Joey, and i’ll tell you – as a fan of another chase contender, i was thinking – there’s no way Logano DOESN’T win this if he wins at Mville – hopefully my driver can figure it all out and get his mojo back. We’ll see what that 22 team is able to do.

      I hate how the chase has become this false elimination but hey – who knows what the next iteration is
      maybe it’s only wins count over the next 10 races – no points – just wins – the one with the most wins, wins the championship – same incentive – no ridiculous elimination based on a $5 part failure – and who knows – will probably get you the same excitement, with a bit less stuff that we’ve seen over the last few weeks.

      but what do i know, i’m just a fan…

  5. My 2 cents…

    I think if Matt had just spun Logano, nothing would have happened, no penalties, or at most
    a wrist slap…

    Where the line was crossed I believe, and if you go back and watch the video. Matt is in the gas
    spinning his tires, heading straight to the wall with the 22 on his nose..

    That goes beyond just trying to ruin some body’s day.

  6. There shouldn’t be 5 reasons. Either its right or its wrong. Rulings based on circumstances is the real cause of the problem. The NFL, NBA or MLB don’t use a different set of rules for the playoffs. And until Nascar gets to that point it will be sporadic eruptions of the same old crap.
    Some people may like it this way. However how easy is it find somebody else that wants to talk about Nascar?

  7. 40+ years of following Nascar h near religion devotion, this easily the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in a Cup race. Facts check: #20 crew despise #22 bc JGR cast JL off & can not cope with getting WHOOPED by the fate of their own flawed decisions! And THAT is the crux of all this. If a person can not cope with losing, racing is definitely the wrong profession for them. Facts check: #20 “missed” his brake point for Turn 1 by over 150 feet due to a “mechanical failure” & but then mysteriously found the brake pedal about 30 feet from the wall, at which point his brakes “suddenly” worked. This is why it “appears” #22 cut him off. But nothing could be further from the truth. Regardless, lapped cars are supposed to yield to leaders not pile driver them. Facts check: fan poles are popularity contest. If you add all the Ford fans & stack them up against all of the Chevy & Toyota fans you get approx 75% vs. 25%, which is what poles & grandstand reactions show regarding the appropriateness of the #20’s action. This is clearly because the #22 is the primary threat to take the Cup this year. So, naturally & nauseatingly, the Chevy drivers & fans align & inexplicably support the #20’s act, despite it’s repulsive, unsavory unsporting & exceedingly dangerous nature! Facts check This was NOT a racing move & fans that applauded it are a shameful disgrace. Folks cheered when Lions ate slaves in the Coliseum, was that racing? NO! This was a far sight from anything resembling racing or sport. Imo, Nascar does NOT want or need “fans” that enjoy races being ruined & a competitor’s life & well being taken for granted!

    • Correct…The fan poles are a popularity contest and the balance of the fans are not Ford fans. What happened at Martinsville was not racing, I don’t care what the knuckle draggers think. I am surprised at the thinking of many “fans” is that they make no distinction between Kansas and Martinsville and are very vocal about it. I mean really???? Scary world. That was an embarrassment for the sport that outsiders already mock.

  8. You folks are too soft for real racing. Get you a sport where your momma can wipe your runny little noses & keep you squeaky clean. Well, I guess you got one; NASCRAP has sunk to that low, I’ll go back to watching dirt races where men are men & racers race.

  9. Nascar has now said that there are two sets of rules on track. Don’t touch the ‘chasers’, and all else is fair game. Do they still not see how ridiculous it is to have an eliminator format while every team is still on the track? This is yet another reason the format makes no sense. I guess the only safe thing to do is have a separate race for the ‘chasers’, and then another for the ‘also rans’.

  10. Sorry, Boss, but I don’t see how what Matt did was any different than what Jeff Gordon did to Clint Bowyer in 2012 at Phoenix. Bowyer arrived at Phoenix 36 points out of the lead. Gordon wrecked him and it was on purpose, no doubt about that, and Jeff didn’t even bother denying it. After Phoenix there was ONE race left to run so enough about elimination rounds and what not. One race. Not two more chances to win a race like Logano has. While Gordon was no longer in serious title contention by that point, wrecking Bowyer was beneficial to his teammate (hell…he’s liisted as co-owner of the 48 team) Jimmie Johnson who had problems of his own that day and finished 32nd, 38 laps off the pace. Did Gordon wreck Bowyer to help his teammate? I doubt it. He was just pissed off at Clint. Gordon not only wasn’t suspended he went on to win the next race (the final event of the season) at Homestead. Bowyer finished second in that race but lost the title to Keselowski by 39 points. Johnson finished 3rd in the standings, one point behind Bowyer despite JJ blowing a rear gear and finishing 36th. Seems like if anything the damage done to Bowyer’s title hopes was MORE severe than Logano’s current plight. There’s a big difference in the prize money for finishing second and third in the standings too.

    • Matt,
      Points after the Texas race before the Phoenix race:
      Johnson 0
      Kesolowski -7
      Bowyer -36
      Kahne -58
      Kenseth -72
      Gordon -72
      Hamlin -73
      Stewart -80
      Truex -80

      Now, we all know that, realistically, Bowyer and Kesolowski were the only ones that had a snowball’s shot at Johnson in 2012 However mathematically, with 48 points in each race (96 total), there were several drivers that were still “in the championship picture” albeit with probabilities of 2% or less. Matt’s mathematical chance of a championship at Martinsville was 0%. Furthermore I’d guess that the probability of Bowyer overtaking both Kesolowski and Johnson was less than 25% (total BS guess there). So not exactly an apples to apples comparison.
      With that said, I was mortified when Gordon did that and I expected a one race suspension and was surprised that he wasn’t.

  11. Perfect explanation of how the 2 incidents are different from each other in #2. That seems to escape a large portion of the fan base. Like you said take the names out of it and most people would see Kansas as a racing incident. The fact that Kenseth cannot see the difference says alot about him and I have lost alot of respect for him. Like someone stated below, Nascar used to be about real men racing cars, beating and banging on other on track every weekend, then after the race having a beer with those same people. Now its been replaced with a bunch of spoiled whining babies who fly off the handle every time someone so much as touches a bumper to their car. And Nascar wonders why nobody can relate to these drivers anymore.

  12. if Matt was in the Chase they would not have parked him, I really thought that JDR had the same standing as Hendrick, I am a Jeff Gordon fan I used to watch him drive midgets in Ventura California and have followed them ever since, but the facts are he was given preferential treatment because who he drives, in the greatest racing organization NASCAR is being wishy-washy, when I drove in the 50s and 60s if you took out the leader at some small tracts you went to the back. Oh well I guess I’ve rambled on enough boy was I wrong about my predictions on what would happen but there’s still an appeal,

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