After Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth tangled while racing for the lead two weekends ago at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France called the incident “a great example of everybody doing probably exactly what they should be doing.”
But after Sunday’s Chase race at Martinsville Speedway, where Kenseth dumped Logano in what appeared to be obvious payback for their Kansas dust-up, NASCAR may have a different perspective.
Unlike the Kansas wreck in which Logano knocked Kenseth out of the way as the two battled hard for an all-important win in the closing laps, Sunday’s collision came as Logano led and Kenseth nursed a slow and badly damaged car around the track after being involved in a separate wreck a few laps earlier.
After the race, NASCAR officials summoned Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and team owner Joe Gibbs to the NASCAR hauler for a discussion.
Whether Kenseth — who is now out of the Chase — gets penalized or even parked for his actions on Lap 454 of 500 remains to be seen.
“We were certainly disappointed with what took place tonight on the racetrack,” NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said during an impromptu news conference after Sunday’s race. “We had a conversation with both Matt, crew chief, Joe Gibbs. Like we always do, there’s still a lot to digest from what happened tonight. We’ll do that. We’ll have some additional conversations and probably come out with something, if there is anything to discuss, on Tuesday.”
O’Donnell indicated NASCAR has “options on the table” in terms of punishment, but was not ready to discuss specifics at this point.
Asked where the line is between the kind of racing that is good for the sport and bad for the sport, O’Donnell offered an interesting but somewhat vague explanation.
“I think what we’ve said is the Chase promotes great racing,” he said. “We saw that today on the racetrack. We saw a lot of different competitors out there competing for the win. I think what was disappointing today was the incident that I think we’re referring to would be a driver that’s not competing for a win and, in fact, was many laps down when that happened.
“In our minds, that’s a little bit different than two drivers really going after it coming out of Turn 4 for a win, versus what happened tonight.”
O’Donnell said NASCAR does not subscribe to the widely espoused idea that the Chase format — which features three highly intense elimination rounds followed by a winner-take-all championship race — is responsible for the aggression that’s been on the rise over the past few weeks.
In last weekend’s elimination race at Talladega, reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick — another Chase driver — triggered a late multi-car wreck that many observers believed crossed a line.
It’s possible that Kenseth’s move toward Logano on Sunday did, as well.
“I think the Chase format creates great racing on the track,” O’Donnell said. “You saw six of the eight competitors who were going for a championship lead laps today — drivers at their best. You’re going to see drivers going door-to-door, and in the history of NASCAR we’ve seen that. I’d go back to this incident as a one-off that we’ll look at.
“But we continue to believe that the Chase promotes great racing on the track. I think the fans certainly saw that today.”