Was Joey Logano’s late-race move ‘just hard racing’ or something else?
After a disappointing outing to start the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Matt Kenseth was doing what he needed to do to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Leading with less than 10 laps to go, Kenseth was in a hard-fought battle with Charlotte winner Joey Logano for the race lead. As the pair battled nose-to-tail for the top spot they caught slower traffic through the tri-oval.
While Logano had the faster car, Kenseth was able to keep the lead by blocking Logano’s charge lap after lap. As the pair reached the slower traffic, Logano went high and Kenseth threw a huge block on the No. 22 Team Penske Ford driven by Logano.
The block sent Logano into the outside wall, and as the pair went into the Turn 1, Logano tried to dive under Kenseth for the lead. The slight contact sent Kenseth’s car sliding up the banking, sending a smokescreen across the track and bringing out the seventh caution of the day.
Kenseth was forced to bring the car to the attention of his pit crew, while Logano remained out front for the green-white-checkered restart.
While Logano took the checkered flag for the second week in a row, Kenseth crossed the line 14th.
"It’s hard to drive a car with the rear tires off the ground," Kenseth said after the race. "I was moving around the best I could. Joey was a lot tighter, a lot faster on the short run, but we were so much better on the long run. I could still kind of get up on the top and get a run to get around him. Catching two lapped cars, somehow I was clear, and I was. I pulled up in front of him and he just lifted my tires off the ground and wrecked me."
Coming off a 42nd-place finish last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kenseth was doing everything he needed to do to secure a spot in the next round of the Chase. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led a race-high 153 of the 269 laps, but heads to next weekend’s Chase elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway in need of a victory to advance to the Eliminator Round.
Kenseth was calm after Sunday’s disappointing finish, but said he would most likely race Logano differently moving forward.
"I won’t talk to Joey. I don’t have anything to talk to him about, really," Kenseth said. "You make decisions every day, you make decisions behind the wheel, to me — strategically — that doesn’t seem like such a great decision for him. But it’s the one he made and that’s how he wanted to win. I’m one of the only guys, I think, that hasn’t been into it with Joey, and I’ve always raced him with a ton of respect. I’ve actually been one of his biggest fans, I’m certainly not anymore, but I always was. It’s a shame. I’m glad the car’s not wrecked, but we’ll just go on to Talladega and race them there."
Standing in Victory Lane, Logano described his battle with Kenseth "good, hard racing," saying the contact that sent the No. 20 Toyota sliding was the result of racing another driver the way he was raced.
"I felt like I got fenced twice on the straightaways. He raced me hard, so I raced him hard back," said Logano. "That’s hard racing. That’s the way I race. If I get raced like that, I’m going to race the same way. That’s just how I’ve always been and it’ll always be that way."
Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff chalked the incident up to hard racing for the lead, saying his driver was doing what needed to be done to hold onto the lead. While his driver showed restrain after the race, Ratcliff knows Kenseth and the rest of the No. 20 team are disappointed with the overall outcome.
“It’s disappointing but when you look at it as a whole, we came here and did exactly what we needed to do this weekend,” said Ratcliff. "Did we bring the trophy home? No, but I don’t know that that wasn’t in our control the way it ended. I think the things we had control of we came out here and successfully accomplished. Yeah, it’s disappointing, but at the same time, I’m really proud of the race team and everybody back at the shop and what they were able to do this week in preparing this car and coming out here and leading the most laps and having a shot at it.”
While Logano heads to Talladega Superspeedway with a spot in the Eliminator Round already locked up, Kenseth sits the deepest of the 12 Chase drivers, 35 points behind the eighth-place cutoff.