His appeals rejected, Matt Kenseth defiantly vowed Thursday to race as he always has and accused NASCAR of “unfairly” making an example out of him with a two-race suspension for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano over the weekend at Martinsville.
Kenseth will miss the next two races, at Texas and Phoenix, and is eligible to return for the Nov. 22 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The national motorsports appeals panel denied Kenseth’s appeal and a few hours later so did final appeals officer Bryan Moss, who did reduce Kenseth’s probation from six months until the end of this year.
Kenseth said he was “unfairly made the example” because NASCAR had no clear rule on what the penalties are for intentionally wrecking another driver in an act of retaliation.
“I am not going to change who I am, I’m not going to change what I stand for, I’m not going to change how I race,” Kenseth said. “I’ve been in this business a long time, I feel I’ve had a pretty good career to this point and I feel like I’m going to continue to have the respect on the race track that I feel I deserve.”
NASCAR has not been consistent over the years in punishing drivers who exact revenge. Kenseth was spun out three races ago by Logano as both raced for the win at Kansas, ruining a chance to advance in NASCAR’s championship playoffs. On Sunday, he deliberately crashed into Logano at Martinsville and Logano lost a shot at an automatic berth in the final four.
Danica Patrick was fined $50,000 for wrecking another driver in retaliation on Sunday, but it was Kenseth’s penalty that raised eyebrows.
Kenseth was harshly punished to deter any driver from doing the same thing, NASCAR chairman Brian France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday. France referenced the 2013 cheating scandal at Richmond, where Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated a series of events to ensure its driver made the playoffs.
France warned the entire industry after Richmond that manipulating races would not be tolerated — and he indicated what Kenseth did at Martinsville fit that category.
“Going back to Richmond, we’ve been very clear when anybody in the industry, any driver or participant, intentionally tries to alter the outcome of events or championships, that crosses a different line than a racing problem between two drivers,” France said. “So obviously the significance of what was on the line had to be taken into consideration.”
Jeff Gordon was fined $100,000 but avoided suspension for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer in a move that ended Bowyer’s 2012 title chances. Reigning champion Kevin Harvick had no action taken against him two weeks ago at Talladega when he triggered a race-ending crash that preserved his spot in the playoffs.
France said the only difference between what Kenseth and Patrick did on Sunday were the stakes for Logano, who was on his way to a fourth straight victory and a berth in the championship finale for the second consecutive year.
Kenseth, the last series champion before the Chase was introduced in 2004, was uncharacteristically angry after he was wrecked at Kansas. It was no secret he was fuming, but NASCAR, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske all allowed the feud to simmer rather than intervene before Martinsville.
Kenseth passed on a chance to knock Logano out of his way earlier Sunday, but he finally snapped after he was wrecked while racing Logano and his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for position. The teammates had been working together on restarts, strategy that angered other drivers who believed the Penske drivers were monkeying around.
Kenseth and Keselowski made contact that sent both cars to the garage, and Kenseth didn’t buy the in-race explanation from Keselowski’s camp that it was an accident.
Kenseth then returned to the track in a wrecked car, down nine laps, and drove Logano’s car into the wall as Logano tried to lap him. Instead of winning the race and earning a spot in the finale, Logano is now last in the eight-driver field.
France argued that a deliberate wrecking of Logano’s race, and perhaps his season, can’t be tolerated.
“I know there’s a lot of discussion about consistency in our penalties and there should be and that’s part of the equation,” France said. “We issue penalties for two reasons: We’ve got to punish you for what we think you’ve done wrong, and we have to make sure that we deter somebody else from doing exactly what you did or worse. That’s why we can’t be consistent with every single penalty because sometimes we’ve got to up the ante with a penalty because we don’t believe the current remedy is a deterrent.”
After he was spun out at Kansas, Kenseth argued that it was a cheap move by Logano, who was already assured of advancing to the next round. Other drivers seemed to believe that the arrogance shown by Logano after the spin — he was shoulder-shrug unapologetic — had shattered a driver code.
France, however, praised Logano for the shrewdness he showed in chasing a win that blocked one of his top competitors for the title, and the aggression Logano showed to move Kenseth after Kenseth blocked him several times.
“To not have to deal with Matt Kenseth, that’s smart,” France said. “You can drive aggressively and if there’s a little bit of contact, then we understand that. There’s nothing new that went on at Kansas that doesn’t go on all the time. Now it was very unfortunate with the circumstances Matt got dealt on that particular day because he needed to win, he was trying move on in the round, we understand that. What happened, frankly, as I said before, was quintessential NASCAR.”