DW: Jeff Gordon gets biggest win of career, NASCAR gets it right on Matt Kenseth
Obviously we saw a lot happen both good and bad Sunday at Martinsville. Certainly on the good side of the ledger was Jeff Gordon getting the 93rd win of his career, and probably if you ask him, his biggest win of his career. Now he is guaranteed a shot at his fifth championship by being locked into the Final Four at Homestead in three weeks.
That is huge news and a great accomplishment. It’s huge for Jeff and his family, plus for our sport as a whole. That was his ninth win at Martinsville, and to be honest, I picked him to win there. Joey Logano is my pick to win this weekend at Texas and then in two weeks my pick is Kevin Harvick to win at Phoenix.
A lot took place in that 500 laps at Martinsville, and that really should come as no surprise to anyone. There’s a lot of contact when it comes to short-track racing and, believe it or not, it’s mostly unintentional. You simply can’t put 43 big, heavy stock cars on our smallest track on the circuit, the tightest track on the circuit and, oh, by the way, our slowest track on the circuit, and not expect people to run into each other.
I grew up on the short tracks and I absolutely loved racing on them. I always had a saying that if the left side of your car was banged up by the end of the race, well, it meant you were in the way. If the right side of your car was banged up then that meant you were rooting and gouging folks out of the way to get to the front. That’s just classic short-track racing.
You expect that going into the race, and you have to pick your fights. You always hear me say that you have to play with emotion but you can’t let emotion play with you. You can’t get mad every single time someone gets into you on a short track. Some guys and gals can handle it, and some can’t. Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick showed us Sunday they can’t, unfortunately.
The big story on the bad side of the ledger from Sunday was what Matt Kenseth did to race-leader Joey Logano. This has been building for a number of weeks but unfortunately for Matt, Joey and our sport, it all came to a head on Sunday. You hear us talk all the time that when it comes to paybacks, the short tracks are where it will likely happen.
Early in the race Sunday, Matt caught Joey and put the bumper to him, but Joey let him go. When I saw that happen I didn’t think it was too awful bad because Matt could have done a lot worse to Joey at that point but didn’t. Matt had a fast car Sunday. He had another chance to win but was racing Joey’s teammate, Brad Keselowski. They had short-track contact coming off of Turn 2. Matt hit the wall and bounced into Brad. Both cars were wrecked and went to the garage.
Matt’s team got his car repaired enough that he got back on the track and did something totally unexpected. I mean this was so totally out of character for someone like Matt Kenseth. Matt waited on Joey Logano, who was leading the race at the time and going for his fourth win in a row, and Matt took Joey out intentionally.
I’m sorry, but that is totally unacceptable. You cannot allow something like that to happen. It’s unprofessional, and it hurts the image of the sport, especially considering Matt is a past champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. NASCAR cannot let the drivers run the sport. NASCAR is the sanctioning body, and after a couple days of deliberation and review, they dropped the hammer on Matt Kenseth.
When you see someone like Matt Kenseth, who I think the world of, do what he did Sunday at Martinsville, it is simply disappointing. I hate it for him, I hate it for Joey but, more importantly, I hate it for our sport. There’s nothing good that came out of Martinsville where Matt Kenseth is concerned.
NASCAR has now parked Matt for the next two races. Let’s be clear: They are going to appeal it, and it also doesn’t mean the No. 20 car won’t race, but if Joe Gibbs Racing loses the appeal, it means there will be another driver behind the No. 20 car this weekend at Texas and next weekend at Phoenix.
NASCAR had no choice but to come down on Matt hard. Honestly, I am glad they did. A couple weeks ago when Brian France said he was OK with what Joey did to Matt late in the race, well, that statement made me uneasy because I could just visualize things escalating. Unfortunately, we saw that escalation reach its peak Sunday when Matt took Joey out.
It was a hard call on NASCAR’s part and it’s a call I’m glad I didn’t have to make. At the end of the day, though, they made the right call. Like I said earlier, I love short-track racing. It’s the heart and soul of what we do. The drivers of today and the drivers of tomorrow will all start their careers at some local short-track race all over this country.
You simply can’t cross the line like Matt did on Sunday. Oh sure, you can go up to it, but you just can’t cross it and not expect to pay the penalty for your actions. When you tell folks you are going to go out and do something intentionally plus carry through with it, that’s crossing the line.
I applaud NASCAR for what they did. So as ecstatic as I was for Jeff Gordon winning the race Sunday, I was equally upset with Matt’s decision to deliberately take out a competitor. It was embarrassing for Matt and Joe Gibbs Racing plus, like I said earlier, embarrassing for our sport.
NASCAR has made its ruling. I’m not sure why JGR is even going through the appeal process, but it is their right to do so. Like everything that happens in our sport, good or bad, we move on. This weekend it’s Texas Motor Speedway, and as I said earlier, my pick to be the winner is Joey Logano. I think he will join Jeff Gordon as the second driver locked into the Final Four championship race come Homestead.