When Matt Kenseth rode Joey Logano into the first-turn wall at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway one week ago, it sparked questions about how NASCAR should deal with its “driver’s code.”
NASCAR dealt with it in this instance, all right, handing Kenseth a two-race suspension and placing him on probation until Dec. 31 (after an appeal). That means he will miss Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and next week’s race at Phoenix. Kenseth will return in time for the season finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I feel like I was unfairly made the example instead of knowing where the line is, what the penalties are,” Kenseth said Thursday after his suspension was upheld by the National Motorsports Appeal Panel in Concord.
But was he?
You just have to go out there and race everybody the way you want to be raced. In some ways you have to demand the same in return.
Despite NASCAR’s now famous “Boys, have at it,” pronouncement in 2010, many drivers say they’re still uncertain about where to draw the line in how they use that driver’s code, or how they self-police on the track, especially in the crucible of the Chase.
“You just have to do what you think is the best and what is the right thing to do at the time,” said Carl Edwards. “All of us have done all sorts of things. Some of them were right, some of them definitely weren’t right. You just have to go out there and race everybody the way you want to be raced. In some ways you have to demand the same in return.”
Edwards said he received a lesson early in is career about the give-and-take between drivers when Mark Martin, one of Edwards’ mentors, ran into the rear of his car at Bristol.
“It was all I could do not to wreck,” said Edwards. “I wondered what happened and didn’t know what was going on. On Monday, I called him. I said, ‘Remember when you ran into the back of me and I didn’t know if there was something that I needed to know there?’
“He said, ‘No, for the last few races you’ve been racing me hard and I thought you were taking a little more and I just figured if that’s how you want to race, that’s how you want to race.’
“I was like, ‘Whoa, no I don’t want to race like that.’
“(Martin) said, ‘OK, fine. Then don’t and we won’t.’
“That was it. It made me realize I personally try to race everyone the way I’d like to be raced. Everybody makes mistakes. If I make a mistake, I try to say I made a mistake there. For the most part, I think everyone does a good job with that in the garage.”
The Logano-Kenseth spat stemmed from the Oct. 18 race at Kansas, where Kenseth was leading and trying to hold off a fast-closing Logano. Logano finally dealt with Kenseth’s blocking tactics by bumping him out of the way. It would be Logano’s second of three consecutive victories and essentially end Kenseth’s hopes in the Chase.
Did Logano deserve to get wrecked? Or was Kenseth – out of contention in the race and the Chase -- out of line? And where is that line drawn?
Two weeks later, in the first race of round three of the playoffs, Logano appeared to be cruising to a fourth straight win. That was until Kenseth, nine laps down, tracked him down and wrecked him.
The impact was instant. Did Logano deserve to get wrecked? Or was Kenseth – out of contention in the race and the Chase – out of line? And where is that line drawn, especially after the “Boys, have at it” statement by NASCAR vice president of racing Robin Pemberton five years ago?
“What Robin was saying was, hey look, boys have at it, do your normal thing, and if we over-officiate, we’ll draw back on that and let the normal racing action of NASCAR happen,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said earlier this week on Sirius/XM Radio. “That’s what he meant, and that’s what we tried to do.
“And when there are lines that are crossed, like we believe there were in Martinsville, then NASCAR will step in and deal with that. It’s as simple as that.”
Drivers, however, say it’s far from simple.
“Each situation is different,” said driver Kevin Harvick, who wasn’t penalized earlier in the Chase when his slow car caused an accident during a restart at Talladega. “But you go into (NASCAR’s) hauler and they explain it to you and it makes sense.”
Said Martin Truex Jr.: “The implications aren’t really clear on how things work and what kind of trouble you can get yourself into. Racing is racing. Guys have wrecked each other since racing started. That’s not going to change. Guys get mad all the time. I think that people will go about it differently now because of what happened this week, for sure. How far that goes, I’m not real sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
1. Jeff Gordon*
2. Kyle Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4, Kevin Harvick
5. Carl Edwards
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Kurt Busch
8. Joey Logano
* Has qualified for final round Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway