Logano vs. Kenseth: Racing or Retaliation?

Yesterday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville was everything it promised, and more. Jeff Gordon
won, and celebrated like he was a teenager, full of emotion -- jumping up and down and screaming. The win notches Jeff's trip to the Championship round of The Chase, and keeps his hopes for a fifth championship in his final year alive.

Oh, and Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano wrecked.

By now, everyone's heard, and everyone has an opinion. Many say Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in retaliation for Logano spinning him out on the final lap during the Kansas race. Kenseth and Logano were running first and second, with the No. 20 heading for an all-important Chase win which would advance him to the Eliminator round. But Logano spun him with five laps to go, even though the Penske driver had already won the previous race, securing his spot in the next round.

"It's hard racing," Logano said in his post race interview. "We were both going for the same piece of real estate, and then we just collided there."

Logano also said he didn't like the way Kenseth repeatedly blocked him when he felt he had the faster car. Some analysts argued Logano did what he did because Kenseth was his biggest threat to win the Championship, having won four of the last 10 races coming into the Chase.

Many expected payback from Kenseth at Talladega, but again it was Logano antagonizing Kenseth on a pit stop, coming across three lanes of traffic, and then cutting in front of the No. 20 car and brake-checking him before moving on towards his pit stall. In a must-win situation, this made an already angry Kenseth livid. He advised crew chief Jason Ratcliff to tell the No. 22 team he was going to knock Logano out after the race. Ratcliff did, and Logano blew it off, according to broadcasters. Logano would go on to win the race, and no fireworks ensued.

Yesterday -- out of The Chase, and with nothing to lose -- Matt Kenseth was racing for a win. During a restart on lap 434, the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski got into him, leaving his car mangled. The team repaired it, and he went back out on the track.

On lap 453, Kenseth found himself behind race leader Logano, with 47 laps to go. Going into the turn, the two cars tangled. The No. 22 spun and the crowd roared its approval.

Replays of in-car audio from Kenseth's car hear a crew member telling him, "Wow, man, I guess the right front went down there. You okay?" while Logano's spotter can be heard telling him that "he (Kenseth) is still down there," multiple times before the crash.

After the Martinsville race, Logano had strong words for Kenseth.

"What happened at Kansas was a completely different deal," he said. "We were racing for the win and he blocks you a few times, and he blocked me and spun out. That's what happened there. Here he was a complete coward.

"It's a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over. He'll have his." 

Kenseth told reporters the wreck happened because of damage to his car from the Keselowski incident, and that he should have just parked it. He also said he knew exactly what it felt like to be in Logano's position, admitting it ruined their day.

Last night, social media erupted. Fans weighed in, media weighed in, even Kyle Busch weighed in on pending punishment to Kenseth during the post-race press conference.

"Did he (Kenseth) do anything wrong? I don't know," Busch said. "Did he do anything right? I don't know. I think it all depends on whose name's above the door on whether or not you're allowed to do it."

When Busch was asked if NASCAR would have parked him for doing what Kenseth did, he flatly answered, "yes."

The beauty of a sport like NASCAR is that we're allowed to debate when incidents happen. Most fans have been respectful, but some have not. Today, there was a comment on a Facebook page that wished a disabling or career-ending wreck on Kenseth. That is not okay. Be a fan, debate passionately, but show some sportsmanship.

We're not in the driver's heads. We don't know the "driver's code," as Ricky Craven called it on ESPN this morning. At 43 years old, Kenseth doesn't have many racing years left, and he saw one of his best shots at a second championship taken away by Logano's actions. What does the driver code call for in that instance? At 25 years old and on the verge of a breakout career, Logano saw perhaps his biggest threat to his title hopes about to win a race and advance to another round. What does the driver code call for in that case? None of us knows the answer.

What happened yesterday was pure retaliation from a driver who had simply had enough. With his title hopes dashed one week at Kansas, being brake-checked on pit road at Talladega and being taken out of contention by Logano's teammate earlier in the Martinsville race, Kenseth simply put his foot down -- on the gas.

It's hard to make a guy like Kenseth mad. He's often touted as being one of the most respected drivers in the garage, and has a reputation for racing you clean, as long as you do him the same favor. When asked about the incident in a post-race interview, Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighed in.

"I ain't going to argue with what Matt did," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Matt felt like he was justified with how Joey wrecked him at Kansas, and then was arrogant about it afterward. That was really what got under Matt's skin more than anything - how Joey was arrogant about it. When you wreck a guy you admit it, you know?"

Earnhardt Jr. had one final thought.

"Don't wreck Matt Kenseth, I'll tell you that right now. Do not wreck that boy."

Was this particular incident at Martinsville a black eye on the sport? No. Drivers have been wrecking each other for years, and NASCAR has been allowing it. Remember Dale Sr.? How about Rusty Wallace? But now that the Chase format has been impacted, NASCAR will want to set an example. Any penalties will be announced on Tuesday.

Overall, I believe NASCAR brought this type of situation on themselves. Here's why: First, they said, "Boys have at it." Second, they've put such an emphasis on winning in this new Chase format. A driver is guaranteed a Chase spot with a win, but has to claw his way in without, then has to do everything he can to advance. Third, they've constantly changed the rules: from limiting the number of green-white-checkered attempts at Talladega last weekend, to adding another attempt at the end of the race, to not enforcing penalties consistently among the drivers and teams.

But that's another debate. 
Logano vs. Kenseth: Racing or Retaliation? Logano vs. Kenseth: Racing or Retaliation? Reviewed by Stephanie Stuart-Landrey on Monday, November 02, 2015 Rating: 5