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(Photo: Mike Neff)

NASCAR Becoming Detrimental to Stock Car Racing

Let’s dispense with the typical flowery introduction or using irrelevant song lyrics to frame a story. Instead, as a break from what has become the norm in NASCAR, let’s speak with consistency and clarity:

NASCAR’s actions governing their sport the past three weeks are detrimental to stock car racing.

Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR suspended Matt Kenseth for two races following his actions at Martinsville this past Sunday. Kenseth’s car was in a terrible state of disrepair and he turned right into Joey Logano, driving him into the first turn wall. Having exacted revenge following late-race contact at Kansas and other perceived injustices at Talladega, the sport has Kenseth sitting at home watching the Packers the next two weekends. They think it gives him time to ponder the repercussions of taking matters into his own hands, affecting the futures of a Chase competitor along the way.

On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Wednesday, NASCAR CEO Brian France stated that Kenseth was suspended for impacting the Chase. “Going back to Richmond, we’ve been very clear when anybody in the industry, any driver or participant intentionally tries to alter the outcome of events or championships, that crosses a different line than a racing problem between two drivers,” he said. “So, obviously the significance of what was on the line had to be taken into consideration.’’

Kevin Harvick, however, remains in contention inside the Eliminator Round of The Chase after intentionally causing a wreck involving half of the field at Talladega a week earlier.

Obviously.

Meanwhile, in the same Martinsville race, Danica Patrick attempted to retaliate against David Gilliland after contact early in the race sent Patrick spinning. In a battle of the leper with the most fingers, Patrick had actually passed Gilliland for position but didn’t recognize his car as it had a Jerry Cook tribute paint scheme. She then waited for the No. 38 Ford to come around to try to wreck him – doing a piss-poor job of executing it in the process.

Patrick’s fine was 25 points and 50,000 in GoDaddy dollars.

Have drivers wrecked others before during the Chase? Most certainly! Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer’s season-long rivalry overflowed at Phoenix in 2012, boiling over when early contact with Bowyer inspired Gordon to lay in wait and hook Bowyer head-on into the third turn wall. What followed was a red flag and Bowyer sprinting through the garage area to fight Gordon – who was being restrained from fighting Bowyer’s team. Bowyer had entered that race third in points, 36 out of first. At the time of the wreck he was ahead of eventual champion Brad Keselowski, a driver who also narrowly avoided being collected.

The penalty for that incident? 25 points and $100,000. To review, that’s three drivers. Two similar penalties. One dramatically different outcome.

BOWLES: NASCAR “Ruling” Itself Out Of Business

At Talladega two weeks ago, it was well documented that Harvick’s car was in a terrible state much like Kenseth’s car at Martinsville. While Kenseth’s car was missing a hood and sat nine laps down, Harvick’s 200mph bullet was now a 50mph slug. Unable to accelerate to keep pace on the restart, radio traffic among his team and others indicated the No. 4 car would intentionally cause a wreck to prematurely end the race, solidifying Harvick’s spot in the Chase.

As the green flag dropped, Harvick hooked Trevor Bayne (with external and in-car cameras showing you in 1080p), sending him back and forth across the track and eliminating over 12 cars. Two of them were Chase contenders in Denny Hamlin and Kenseth as the yellow flew, ending the race prematurely and eliminating potential winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Afterwards, the refrain from the media was “he did what he needed to do.” By Tuesday, Harvick was stating “I don’t feel I need to defend myself” while sitting calm and collected knowing he had the protection of “no penalty” from NASCAR.

Oh, OK. I guess anything goes then? That sounds an awful lot like premeditation, intentionally causing a wreck, manipulating an outcome, and affecting the plight of three Chase competitors – while ruining the afternoon for over 150,000 fans.

So why the double standard? Kyle Busch opined after the race Sunday that it depends on whose name is above the door. Perhaps it also has to do with whose name is on the quarterpanels or on the hood.

NASCAR continues to be a sponsor and ratings-challenged sport, increasing costs coupled with hushed whispers regarding the tenuous state of the economy. Anheuser-Busch reduced their sponsorship to just 12 races next season and other major sponsors (Home Depot, the National Guard) have left entirely. Ford has realistically one competitive operation at the moment and hasn’t won a championship since (ironically) Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004.

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Would anyone have gotten into the mess NASCAR has today if the “driver code” championed by old veterans like Mark Martin was respected throughout the season?

Now, were Kenseth’s actions justified? Much has been made of “driver code” the last few days. If you wrong another driver, contact him soon to discuss the incident or at least send some overtures through the media to atone for your sins and avoid further escalation of hostilities. Kenseth and Logano were both protégé’s of Mark Martin, a man who followed that code to a fault. Logano clearly could have showed some humility after Kansas; after all, being radio tough guy isn’t going to win you any friends in this sport. Instead, Logano seems to feel the need to constantly defend himself ever since his perceived softness became an issue five years ago.

Having your old man still troll the pits for you at 25 years old doesn’t help much either.

That isn’t to say that Kenseth is without blame in his career. While I feel that Kansas was a racing incident, it wasn’t much different than how Kenseth scored his first win at Rockingham in 1998 in what was the Busch Grand National Series, nudging Tony Stewart (in a Shell-sponsored car) out of the way on the final turn. Yeah, the stakes are higher and Smoke hung onto it, but the intent was similar; back then, not everyone was thrilled with Kenseth’s move. This ending was back when the “Bump and Run” wasn’t celebrated as it is today.

Kenseth also had a couple of run-ins with Gordon in 2006, spinning him at Bristol and then having the favor returned at Chicagoland Speedway.

Normal tit for tat racing incidents, most of them – but no suspensions warranted or applied.

In this instance, I think Kenseth has suffered enough. Logano’s action at Kansas cost Kenseth more than this suspension will. Factor in the race purse, contract performance incentives for advancing in the Chase, let alone the monies that follow winning the title or finishing in the top four in points at year’s end and it’s understandable to see why he’d be a little upset. That financial hit is coupled with his perpetual Penske run-ins during the Chase the past two years; um, is it really paranoia if they’re out to get you? We all saw how Gordon went after Keselowski last year at Texas – and that was just after slight contact on a restart.

We would later find out why Four-Time was so incensed. His final season was just a few months away. Might Kenseth be in a similar situation? He is but one year younger than Gordon and his son Ross has a burgeoning racing career. At age 43, he won’t be driving forever and knows the clock is ticking. Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing, which had been his home since he came to the Cup Series in 2000 for a shot at winning another championship. As the light on his career begins to wane, so is his patience with new-school drivers, who seem to act more Senna and Prost than Waltrip and Earnhardt.

In the same vein, fans’ patience with NASCAR is petering out due to their recent bipolar approach to driver conduct and rules enforcement.

One day it’s, “Boys, have at it” and, “Quintessential racing;” the next it’s furrowed brows and hand-wringing, pontificating about safety concerns and the integrity (sic) of the Chase. The fact their flip-flop comes one week after a last-lap wreck intentionally caused by a Chaser about to be eliminated, at a track synonymous with launching cars into the fence, makes matters ten times worse.

Now, is wrecking a guy who’s leading while nine laps down acceptable? Absolutely not.

But is shrugging your shoulders when a driver causes a wreck to their benefit following a rules change brought about in the spirit of safety, glossing it over with “he did what he needed to do” legitimate?

Nope.

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Naturally, I don’t have a dog in this fight. My concern is for the future of the sport and paying homage to the past. Neither incident is reflective of NASCAR’s heritage or history – despite what the sugary memories of yesteryear or some clichéd prepared statements might conjure up. Drivers would tangle battling for a win, after exiting their cars, or perhaps in the process of being lapped, but not to the extent we’ve seen the past three weeks. If that was the case, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and Bobby Allison would be suspended from any future Hall of Fame festivities.

Both parties have escalated things and the situation could have been handled differently. Of note, both Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs have been strangely silent on the happenings involving their drivers. Will that need to change for the sport to start fighting back? My issue is with the continued mixed message and different rules for different drivers that has been a point of contention the past few years. It has now officially reached the height of hypocrisy.

Wreck one guy, you get suspended for two races. Take out half of the field, manipulate the finish by ending the race prematurely, and you advance to the Eliminator Round.

Makes sense. Viva la NASCAR.

Vito Pugliese is a former full-time Frontstretch writer and occasional contributor to our site. Follow @VitoPugliese on Twitter.

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About Vito Pugliese

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Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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34 comments

  1. Avatar

    If it weren’t for the blocking deal in Kansas this whole deal never would escalated to the level it came to. I guess the drivers who have been around long enough and NASCAR never learned the lesson from what occurred because of blocking at Daytona in Feb 2001.

  2. Avatar

    So this is where Frontstretch stands! Anyone who dares try to defend Logano gets their comments censored! Thanks a lot!

    • Avatar

      Ken, I post some blunt criticisms of the writers here and to their credit I’ve never been censored. I don’t think they censor posts.

  3. Avatar

    These problems did not start with Kansas or Martinsville. This is the result of the chase format, 3 race resets, double file restarts, and inconsistency for far longer. Yes the 4 should have been penalized for ‘wrecking’ the 6 and scratching the field at Talladega. And yes, the 20 earned exactly what he got for pile driving the 22 while it was leading at Martinsville. Frankly, I think he should have been parked for the season. I said as much in writing to JGR Racing, Dollar General, Toyota, and NASCAR. Only Dollar General even responded. Fortunately NASCAR and the appeals process have spoken. What the 20 did at Martinsville, was in my opinion, quite different than the incident between the 22 and 20 at Kansas. Not even in the same zip code as far as I am concerned. I wish NASCAR would punt the chase, double file restarts. If I understand correctly, one could win every race in this format, except the last, and lose the Cup. Are you kidding? And I have viewed and enjoyed this sport for the better part of 25+ years. Of late, however, well it is waning. Thank you NASCAR for finally getting this one right.

    • Avatar

      At the risk of my comment being censored, Terry, the two incidents were completely different. But, many are so blinded by their all-consuming hatred, they can’t see it. Thank you!

      Will this comment be censored?

  4. Avatar

    Regardless of historical precedent, I think a suspension is warranted…but, 2 races seems like a weird cop-out. Should just be the balance of the season (3).

    And, no…this isn’t about the chase, or the championship, or points, or elimination. It is just about a race.

    When a car that is multiple laps down, with no real chance to do anything, wrecks out someone still legitimately in the hunt, that’s just bush-league. Well beyond “actions detrimental to the sport”. It’s happened before (Carl Edwards could practically have his own highlight reel), and it will happen again, and it still should result in the driver that did it being parked for a few races.

    When the drivers are racing for the same thing (preferably, a win) and they get into each other, it is not the same, even if it’s someone you don’t like. Even when the someone you don’t like is doing most of the “getting into” someone you do like.

    I’m nominally OK with “boys have at it” for position. Not so much, otherwise. I seriously question the judgement of folks that equate what happened at Kansas to what happened at Martinsville.

  5. Avatar

    Nascar’s rules are written in pencil. ‘Nuff said.

  6. Avatar

    Well said, Vito. Absolutely on point and 100% correct.

  7. Avatar

    After Kansas and the rhetoric from both sides, Nascar knew retaliation was a definite possibility. As the sanctioning body, shouldn’t they have talked with both drivers, letting them know that a continuation of reckless behavior would have severe consequences? Being pro active is what a sanctioning body should be. I say Nascar and BZF (for his unfortunate comments) are mainly responsible for what has happened.

  8. Avatar

    Actually kb , your righteous indignation is what is comical. If Matt was driving a Ford and Joey was driving a Toyota , you would be spouting an opinion 180 degrees from what you are now. That is my two cents.

    • Avatar

      It’s not that kb likes fords, it’s the fact that kb’s son drives the 22, which happens to be a ford. when he drove for jgr, you bet kb was all about toyota

  9. Avatar

    This silly chase elimination has set the stage for a lot of this. When its all or nothing; this sort of thing you see with Kenseth, Harvick, Logano, and even two years ago with Waltrip racing will just naturally occur. The championship is no longer about who had the best car for the year.

  10. Avatar

    The headline says it all. The ratings are in the toilet. Interest in Nascar is even lower. People don’t watch, they don’t go to races, and this is in the South, its home area. At what point will Nascar dip below the performance clause I am sure Comcast has included in their contract. Kyle was right, Nascar does have it’s favorites that can do no wrong and although it’s never been fair it has at least been subtle. Now it’s just blatant and people are leaving in droves because of it……… Nascar has found the enemy and it’s Nascar.

  11. Avatar

    I’d like to wade back into this with one point that should be a larger part of the discussion… Putting the blame for the Joey/Matt crapshow at Kansas right back on NASCAR where it belongs. Why was Joey in the position to to tag Matt and spin him to get around him? The current aero package that causes the trailing car to lose grip when pulling up on the car in front. How many times have we griped about this aero package and the complete lack of passing ability it provides?
    So, Matt was using that to his advantage and Joey had little option left to him. Spin him or run 2nd. I really don’t think that, had Joey not tapped Matt, he would have ever gotten around him with this aero package. NASCAR made a conscious decision not to run the low down-force package in the chase, despite the positive results and driver support it received prior to the Chase. “Oh, we can’t change rules this season, gotta wait til next year. Oh, but, we’re gonna change rules this season at Talladega for the GWC”.
    So, everyone that says Joey could have passed Matt if he’d have just waited? How? How can you be so sure he’d have gotten around him? With all the air off the nose of the car whenever he pulled up on the 20, how was he going to get by, especially when the 20 kept pulling in front of the 22 to take the air away? Matt would have not changed tactics in later laps.
    I still just hate that the whole thing happened, I like both drivers and wish they were both aiming for Homestead instead of each other.

  12. Avatar

    Looking for consistency in Nascar’s rules enforcement is like looking for a nun in a brothel. Why even bother?

  13. Avatar

    Seriously Vito, where have you been? NASCAR has NEVER had anything resembling consistent rules. NASCAR has never actually attempted to enforce whatever the rules of the moment were. So why does this situation surprise you? Almost any fan could easily list a dozen similar incidents from years past. Even the PT Barnumesque Big Bill France referred to NASCAR as a “show”. Call it a sport if you wish but NASCAR was always just a show. Entertainment is important to,any show, fairness and consistency are not even part of the equation.

  14. Avatar

    Here’s a what if.

    Gordon is leading near the end of Homestead. He’s coming up to lap Kenseth. Just as he gets beside him Kenseth’s right front tire blows and they go into the wall and Harvick wins the “championship’. How many of the people who complained about the two race suspension would be yelling it should have been three?

    • Avatar

      Oh I don’t know. I am sure I’d be disappointed but, as I said earlier in the season, once Jeff announced his retirement all I cared about was him making it through this season without being seriously hurt or worse. I did hope he won at least one more race which has happened. If that’s his last moment of glory then I am fine with it. I’m just looking forward to not caring what NASCAR does. It’s gotten old and after a while feels like you are beating your head against a wall.

      • Avatar

        I’m with Bill on this. Would I like to have Gordon hoist the big trophy for the crapshoot? Absolutely. However the win at Martinsville made me very happy because I was hoping to see him celebrate with his family in VL in his final season.

        If he wins the crapshoot that’s great but like Bill my biggest concern (especially after a few years when he seemed to be Nascar’s crash test dummy and found every unprotected wall at various tracks) is for him to get out of this sport healthy.

        I’m also with Bill on looking forward to not giving a rat’s patoot about what madness NASCAR creates after this season. They are so full of BS about everything it is aggravating to even try and figure it out. One minute, the chaos they created, encouraged and condoned is “just what we wanted” and the next, as Vito said, they and the media, are wringing their hands and acting concerned about safety. Just garbage all around.

  15. Avatar

    I love the title, your singing the NASCAR theme song to the choir, let me take the second verse…

    Money, get back
    I’m all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack
    Money, it’s a hit
    Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
    I’m in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
    And I think I need a Lear jet

  16. Avatar

    Maybe its finally time for the sport/business to decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be the southeastern inspired sport rooted in the “eye for an eye”, mentality with an rulebook which changes on a whim? Or, perhaps one where there are written rules, which are consistently enforced regardless of the participants? My suspicion is that it will be the former. If however that is the case expect the occasional eruption of more of this type of crap in the future.

    As to the silence of Penske and Gibbs, they are part of this as well. After all, at the end of the day the drivers work for the team owner. A word from either one of them could have prevented this. Nothing like the old message in the ear saying “if you do it you’re fired” to promote restraint. But they choose not to.

    • Avatar

      NASCAR wants to have it both ways, in that they want the “excitement” of boys have at it, BUT they want to be able to have plausible deniability and pretend that they don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t think for one minute it is a concern for safety that brought the penalties on.

      I also don’t think this is a southeastern thing, lots of MW racers out there with the same point of view — such as Stewart, the Wallace’s and Kenseth.

      • Avatar

        Same mindset, but as for stock car racing it came out of the southeast (where I happen to live) . But the point is still the same. You could as easily say “code of the west”, it doesn’t matter.

  17. Avatar

    Hmmm. Why isn’t Matt’s action with Newman and Newman’s reaction ever mentioned as the first step in the Matt issues during this insipid “round”. Guess it would not make the narrative as compelling.

    Call me crazy, I can’t stand Harvick, but he can drive a race car..with that said I don’t see anything truly definitive as to what he did…Matt on the other hand was clear as day. That is my two cents.

    …And the righteous indignation by some of the drivers is comical..as they act like they have never participated in any move before and have been blameless..i.e. losing patience with a driver that is blocking all over the place and holding your line. One honest driver said..”frankly I would have done it sooner”.

    Bipolar sport with a lot of passion…people complain about Nascar making decisions but this seems cut and dry and people are still calling inconsistency. And that criticism is warranted, I agree! The right or wrongs they made in the past are in the past. Fans wanted action. Now this isn’t a popular action, albeit the right one, and they are still up in arms for their own emotional investment. When does Nascar get it right, for some fans?????????

    • Avatar

      Joey Sucks!!! just kidding, this is only a test to see if an alarm goes off on your phone when a negative Joey comment is posted. Best results of the year doesn’t earn anything anymore, not even “Driver of the year”. Sham. If he wins at Homestead he shouldn’t have an asterisk next to Champion, it’s even more difficult to actually be the best of the year and roll a seven at Homestead. Now go back to sleep.

      • Avatar

        Nah, you’re not kidding. Joey does suck. How else could he have gotten a pair of lips like that.
        Maybe he should bring his Mommy instead of his Daddy to the races.

    • Avatar

      kb, it’s clear from how defensive you are of logano that you are his mom. please tell your husband that he’s old enough to fend for himself. it’s embarrassing to have the father of someone his age still fighting his battles. Now be sure to polish off that gold statue of joey you keep on your mantle. Wouldn’t want it looking dull now would we?

      • Avatar

        Back in the day, the likes of Bobby Hamilton, Cale, the Allisons, Kulwicki, the Flocks and a long list of others woulda just found princess Joey & kicked his ass. How I miss those days…