For all practical purposes, the controversial incident knocked Kenseth out of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Asked about France’s description a few days later at Talladega Superspeedway, Kenseth replied, “I don’t know what that word means … once I learn what that means, then I can probably answer that better.”
Turns out the 2003 Cup Series champion may have broken out the dictionary.
In what looked like a blatant payback move, Kenseth crashed Logano out of the lead of the Goody’s Headache Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway, potentially putting a world of hurt on Logano’s championship aspirations.
Kenseth, running off the pace and nine laps down in 34th place in a damaged car after an earlier accident, appeared to pick his spot, ambushing race leader Logano by driving him into the Turn 1 wall on the 454th of 500 laps.
Kenseth, his crew chief Jason Ratcliff and team owner Joe Gibbs were promptly summoned to the NASCAR hauler. But no punishment they could potentially mete out to Kenseth could possibly be enough to satisfy Logano, the sport’s hottest driver who was on the brink of a fourth consecutive Cup Series race win.
In a television interview, Logano said he was surprised by what transpired.
“I think what happened at Kansas is a completely different deal,” he said. “We were racing for the win. He blocks you a few times. We raced hard, he blocked me the last time, and we spun out.
“Here was just a complete coward move,” he added. “It’s a chicken you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.”
Whether France intended it or not, his post-Kansas remarks may have contributed to a very different kind of “quintessential NASCAR.” In the eyes of many observers, both of the recent Kenseth/Logano incidents were a direct result of the elimination-style Chase format that NASCAR implemented prior to the 2014 season.
The pressure to win on any given week to advance to the next round of the NASCAR “playoffs” has produced unprecedented action both on and off the track.
There were hints last year just how far a driver would go to protect his own championship chances — Ryan Newman‘s aggressive pass on Kyle Larson at Phoenix for the position he needed to qualify for the Championship Round at Homestead, physical attacks on Brad Keselowski by Kenseth and Jeff Gordon after the Team Penske driver raced them both a little too hard for their comfort.
But this was the first time that it looked like one competitor tried to take vigilante justice into his own hands.
The fans loved it — the Martinsville grandstands erupted in support of Kenseth as he walked to the ambulance for the mandatory ride to the infield care center.
But it sets a dangerous precedent for NASCAR, famously the most controlling of all motorsports sanctioning bodies. Sunday showed that ultimately there’s nothing NASCAR can do if one driver decides he really wants to take out another.
For his part, Kenseth blamed the accident on damage his car incurred from a crash with Keselowski and Kurt Busch on a restart some 20 laps earlier.
But he also cited the way the Team Penske drivers tried to work with each other on restarts when both were on the front row, in an effort to let the second-place driver blend into line instead of getting hung out on the outside line.
“We had so much damage on the right front, I probably should have just put it in the garage,” Kenseth told NBCSN. “I just got into [Turn] 1 and couldn’t get it to turn and ran Joey over. A disappointing end for sure.”
Kenseth fell short of a full denial that he intentionally caused the crash.
“It certainly ruined his day,” he noted. “I know what it’s like to be that, too. Some days you’re the bat, some days you’re the ball.
“It’s never fun when you’re the ball.”
With Jeff Gordon winning the race, NASCAR got a dream result at Martinsville. But it may also have learned that it needs to be careful what it wishes for.
Because the elimination-style Chase looks like it’s turning into a nightmare on a whole lot of levels.