NASCAR finds itself in a predicament.
They went to this knockout-style Chase format to stir interest and drama, and it has done that. But it is also flirting with being more in line with professional wrestling than an actual sport.
That debate isn’t going away anytime soon, either, after Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked race leader Joey Logano with 46 laps left on Sunday.
Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. I can’t breathe. And @TXMotorSpeedway is NEXT!
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage on Twitter
“We were certainly disappointed with what took place tonight on the race track,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “There’s still a lot to digest.”
Kenseth felt justified in making the move, considering he held a grudge against Logano for an accident involving both of them two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway.
Fellow drivers seemed to see both sides to the story.
“Growing up, Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd, those are guys you just did not mess with because you knew they would retaliate,” Jamie McMurray said. “Matt Kenseth is in that same category. Matt races everyone fair and he races hard. I feel if he thinks that there could have been better decisions made, so be it.”
Added Kyle Busch, Kenseth’s teammate: “Did he do anything wrong? I don’t know. 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.”
Even Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage weighed in on the incident, likely disappointed those fireworks weren’t saved for next week at Texas.
“Oh my. Oh my. Oh my,” Gossage posted on his Twitter account. “I can’t breathe. And @TXMotorSpeedway is NEXT!”
Having heated moments is nothing new to this Chase format.
A year ago at TMS, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski brawled along pit road after the race following an on-track incident.
But some incidents are easier to swallow than others in NASCAR’s mind.
The one on Sunday happened to involve a driver most considered the favorite to win the race and championship (Logano) and a non-Chase driver who was multiple laps down in the race (Kenseth).
“What we’ve said is the Chase format promotes great racing. We saw that today,” O’Donnell said. “What was disappointing today was the incident, a driver that was not competing for a win. … In our minds, that’s a little different than two drivers really going after it.”
A year ago, the Eliminator Round saw two non-Chase drivers win the opening two races.
But nobody complained considering they happened to be two of the biggest names.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won for the first time at Martinsville, and Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag at Texas.
Non-Chase drivers tried to spoil the party again this year, but ultimately couldn’t. The closest had been runner up Jamie McMurray, who pushed winner Jeff Gordon to the end.
“I drove as hard as I could,” McMurray said. “Jeff was on the outside and his car stuck a little bit better than mine.”
Jeff Gordon continues to pile up honors in his farewell tour.
Martinsville Speedway presented him with his latest Sunday, the H. Clay Earles Award, which honors recipients for “Outstanding Dedication to Auto Racing.”
Gordon is an eight-time winner at Martinsville, and has been a strong ambassador for the track.
“If you look at what he has meant to the sport — the commitment he has made to it and the role he played in helping grow it to popularity never seen before — that’s what I’ll think of when I look on his career,” Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell said. “That’s what the H. Clay Earles Award is all about.”