This is what NASCAR wanted. This is what the fans wanted. This is, as chairman Brian France so eloquently stated two weeks ago, “quintessential NASCAR.”
There’s no question the knockout-style Chase format has created the drama and excitement it hoped to, and there are going to be moments like Sunday, when Matt Kenseth intentionally took out race leader Joey Logano to the crowd’s joy at Martinsville Speedway.
Is it right? Kenseth felt he had to do something after Logano essentially ended his championship hopes two weeks ago at Kansas.
Is it wrong? Kenseth was several laps down at the time of the wreck, and you can argue that he broke an unwritten rule to leave championship contenders untouched.
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Each side has a case to be made. In the end, though, this is simply drivers living up to the “Boys, have at it” mantra.
It’s what the sport has become and, as long as NASCAR gets rousing reactions from fans, is there any reason to change it?
Look no further than the positive impact it’s already making on Texas Motor Speedway, site of the Chase’s next race, the AAA Texas 500.
TMS president Eddie Gossage said the track had its highest ticket sales on the Sunday before race weekend. It surely had to do with the high-drama incident between Kenseth and Logano, coupled with soon-to-be-retired Jeff Gordon winning the race to secure one of the four spots in the championship round.
“It was a record night for us, and this is not the time when you usually sell a bunch of tickets,” Gossage said. “It was a big night. People are going to fall on both sides of this [Kenseth-Logano] controversy, and then Jeff’s success at Martinsville has also resonated with the fans.
“They want to see what happens next.”
It was a record night for us, and this is not the time when you usually sell a bunch of tickets.
TMS president Eddie Gossage on Sunday’s ticket sales
Fans are certainly interested to see how NASCAR handles the latest incident. Some feel that the sanctioning body should suspend Kenseth, while others feel it’s fair game in this Chase format.
Emotions run high, tensions run high and there are scores to be settled between fierce competitors. Nobody should have been too surprised that Kenseth was gunning for Logano, considering the two got tangled up at Kansas two weeks ago.
Logano turned Kenseth for the win with five laps remaining, a move that ultimately kept Kenseth from advancing to the third round. On Sunday, Kenseth got his revenge by sending Logano hard into the wall on Turn 1 with 47 laps remaining. At the time, Logano was leading and appeared to be the favorite to close it out.
Instead, Logano finished 37th and will likely need to win one of the next two races at Texas or Phoenix in order to advance to the championship round.
37 Joey Logano’s finish Sunday at Martinsville, the worst among the eight Chase drivers left
Logano called it a “coward move” by Kenseth, who had no remorse afterward.
The majority of drivers sided with Kenseth.
“I put myself in Matt’s shoes. I could relate,” Gordon said. “I could relate to frustration getting the best of you. I didn’t blow a right front tire like he did today, but I can relate. I get it.
“You might have some regrets later, but I understand why you make that choice at the moment.”
You might have some regrets later, but I understand why you make that choice at the moment.
Jeff Gordon on Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecking Joey Logano
Added Jamie McMurray: “I would say growing up Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd, those are guys you just did not mess with because you knew they would retaliate. Matt Kenseth is in that same category.”
Now the question becomes what NASCAR will do. NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said the sport was “disappointed” in Kenseth’s actions, and would review it.
Any sort of punishment for Kenseth would likely be announced Tuesday.
“NASCAR is in a tough position,” Gossage said. “Who knows what they’re going to do? There’ll be some penalty, but they played a role in this. They’ve let these kinds of things happen.
“Brian France called the Kansas situation ‘quintessential NASCAR.’ Well, isn’t this too?”
NASCAR will let everybody know soon enough. They are at a crossroads, which means it could go in any direction.
As driver Kyle Busch said: “It’s boys being boys right now. You’ve got to be consistent. I definitely feel NASCAR is very consistent in being inconsistent on calls.”
AAA Texas 500
At Texas Motor Speedway
1 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5