We can’t have it both ways.
We can’t watch Matt Kenseth pile-drive Joey Logano so hard that they damn near knock down the Turn 1 wall and then cry outrage and spew righteous anger and question the sanity and humanity and unsportsmanlike conduct of it all. Not at the end of the same week when we all wondered giddily aloud if that exact scenario might take place.
I heard it on NASCAR radio. I read it on my social media timelines and in my email inbox. I even wrote about it on this site, in last week’s Turn 4 writers’ roundtable. I had people stop me at the Birmingham airport one week ago as I headed home from Talladega, four different people in fact, all asking if I thought we’d see some sort of payback at Martinsville, asked downright lustily.
Remember “Boys, have at it”? Do you remember when NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton uttered those words? It was during the 2010 preseason media tour as the sanctioning body promised to loosen its iron fist and let drivers express their emotions without fear of penalty. Do you remember why? Because fans and media had complained so loudly that the sport had become too vanilla, abandoning its rough-hewn roots in the search for a broader audience.
So let’s not go there with all the disbelief when “Boys, have at it” actually happens like it did on Sunday.
So many people reached out to me to mock chairman Brian France’s now somewhat infamous “quintessential NASCAR” description following Logano and Kenseth’s run-in at Kansas three weekends ago. That’s the incident that knocked Kenseth out of a race he had dominated all day, nearly within sight of a checkered flag that would have kept him alive in the Chase.
Those people laughed at France for showing excitement about the Kansas crash. Then they booed Logano when he won at Talladega and one guy screamed at him as he left his Victory Lane celebration, “You’ll get yours at Martinsville, punk!”
And now we’re appalled?
So many of those same folks that complained to me about the happenings at Martinsville had, just three months ago, sent along some very kind comments about a story that I’d written about one of everyone’s all-time favorite races. It was an oral history of the 1995 Goody’s 500 at Bristol when Dale Earnhardt wrecked Rusty Wallace and then wrecked Terry Labonte across the finish line and then Rusty bounced a water bottle off of Earnhardt’s head.
“Now you need to write a sequel,” one Sprint Cup crew chief texted me, “because the Bristol race four years later was even more awesome.”
That’s the one when Earnhardt punted Labonte well short of the finish line. The one that, a week later, had fans pressed against the chain-link fence that lined the Darlington garage, hoping to see the NASCAR Hall of Famers collide in a fistfight.
Those were the good ol’ days, right? That’s what people keep telling me. I’m told that’s back when drivers were real men and showed real emotion and weren’t afraid to use the chrome horn to get their point across. The Intimidator bumper-car-ing his way through The Winston all-star races or turning Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever during an IROC cool-down lap at Daytona. Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers having a throwdown live on CBS at the conclusion of the 1979 Daytona 500. Or Earnhardt hooking Darrell Waltrip at Richmond in ’86. Or a year later, when Waltrip hit Labonte, who hit Earnhardt, and as those two wobbled toward the wall, Waltrip slid by to win … at Martinsville.
So, what was so different about Sunday? The characters involved? The year that it took place? The fact that there were huge, potentially career-altering implications?
You can’t buy the official NASCAR-branded DVDs that feature those moments (and you did, I know because I worked on them) or stand in line to see the videos of those moments at the NASCAR Hall of Fame (and you do, I’ve stood in line behind you) or go to YouTube to watch a compilation of clips titled “NASCAR Fights” (536,810 hits and counting, I know because I’ve watched it, too) … and then act like you are offended to your core by what Kenseth did to Logano on Sunday.
You just can’t.
Well, actually, you can. But you can’t turn around and also be angry at those who dare to call it a double standard.