NASCAR lacks uniformity, breaks trust
By Nicholas Dettmann
The two-race suspension of Matt Kenseth was upheld Thursday by the National Motorsports Appeal Panel and National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss after he intentionally wrecked Joey Logano during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville.
Kenseth will miss the races at Texas and Phoenix. He will be eligible to return for the season-finale Nov. 22 at Homestead.
The only thing that changed regarding Kenseth’s punishment was his probation was reduced from six months to Dec. 31.
To add to this, Danica Patrick also intentionally spun out another competitor in Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Her punishment was 25 driver points and a $50,000 fine, but no suspension from a race.
What this says is NASCAR gives preferential treatment to different drivers and considers things on a case-by-case basis. I’ve followed racing a long time and started covering it thoroughly in 2009. In that time, I’ve learned, more than anything else, drivers want consistency as how rules are developed and then enforced. That is the key factor in this whole Kenseth-Logano fiasco.
NASCAR has broken that code. It has broken trust, which means NASCAR is on its way to a quick downward spiral as it has alienated drivers and fans with a lack of uniformity.
Most of us know the back story by now. But, just in case, three races ago at Kansas, Kenseth was leading Logano with less than 10 laps to go. Logano got into the bumper of Kenseth and spun him out.
Logano went on to win the race and Kenseth finished 14th.
The move essentially eliminated Kenseth’s chance at advancing in the Chase and win the championship because it left him in a must-win situation at Talladega, a race also won by Logano.
After Kansas, NASCAR said Logano did what he needed to do to win the race, essentially condoning a driver spinning out another, adding it’s part of the sport.
Kenseth was furious and so were other drivers, lashing out at NASCAR through several social media avenues.
So with Kenseth out of the championship picture, the last thing he wanted to see was Logano win at Martinsville and assure himself a spot in the final four and the winner-take-all race at Homestead for the championship. So Kenseth did what NASCAR has endorsed for the last several years: “Boys Have At It.” That meant the drivers were allowed to do what they felt was justified to settle a dispute on the track.
Now we learn that’s not appropriate for one reason: Logano is a Chase driver. NASCAR doesn’t want any drivers deliberately impacting the outcome of a race, the championship or the Chase or as it has now become a Circus.
When the “Boys Have At It” slogan came out, I was against it. The reason is because my fear was something was going to go too far where someone, whether it be a driver, a crew member or a fan, would get critically injured or killed. I preferred to see disputes settled in the garage area. But, at the same time, I also realize that settling the matter in the garage area doesn’t mean the same. One driver still emerged as the proverbial winner by his or her actions on the track with little to no consequences.
To Kenseth, he believed something was taken away from him at Kansas. So, when afforded the opportunity, he retaliated. But apparently, where NASCAR believed Kenseth crossed the line was he was several laps down and took out the leader of the race, a Chase driver.
Kenseth should’ve been penalized, but not to this extent.
Think back to 2012 when Jeff Gordon intentionally crashed Clint Bowyer to settle an on-track dispute at Phoenix. The move ended Bowyer’s chance to win the championship that season. Gordon wasn’t suspended, just fined.
Gordon was out of the championship picture and he took out a driver battling for a championship, albeit it was under a different format.
The situation wasn’t that different: a non-championship driver took out a championship contending driver. Show me where the difference is.
What happens if two Chase drivers are involved in an on-track dispute? Oh wait. We already know what happens: Nothing. Kenseth was still in the Chase at Kansas.
No matter the rule, whether it addresses downforce, spoiler height or on-track behavior, rules are in place to assure all involved that these are the rules, if violated, this is the punishment.
What we learned Thursday is there are different rules for different drivers. What’s going to happen if a Chase driver spins out a non-Chase driver who is leading a race? Your guess will be as good as mine and there lies the problem.
A lack of uniformity means a lack of trust and when there is no trust, there is no respect.
Follow Nicholas on Twitter: @dettmann_wbdn