Opinion: NASCAR's ruling on Kenseth -- no matter what -- was bound to infuriate
It was frankly surprising -- perhaps even shocking -- that NASCAR decided to throw the book at Matt Kenseth for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville on Sunday.
Kenseth on Tuesday was suspended by NASCAR for the next two races, at Texas and Phoenix, and almost immediately, social media blew up, not because of how NASCAR came down on Kenseth, but because it was a far more severe penalty than the sanctioning body had handed out before for similar incidents.
When Carl Edwards sent Brad Keselowski's car flying upside down at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 180 miles per hour or so in 2010, Edwards got put on probation for three races. No fine, no points penalty. This for causing an accident that launched a car airborne when Edwards was about 150 laps down.
When Edwards wrecked Keselowski later that year in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race in St. Louis -- and caused a huge, multi-car accident in the process -- he was fined $25,000 and docked 60 points in that series.
When Jeff Gordon intentionally took out Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in 2012, Bowyer was running for a championship. Gordon was fined $100,000, docked 25 points and put on probation until the end of the year -- one race later.
Earlier this year, when Logano wrecked Kenseth going for the win at Kansas, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France called it "quintessential NASCAR," and applauded Logano both for racing hard and essentially knocking Kenseth out of the Chase.
"Joey Logano made a very smart decision in what he did because not only did he try to win the race, which he said he wanted to do and obviously he did, but the idea to late in that race, to have an opportunity to put one of the top teams on the outside looking in to the next round in Matt Kenseth, (who) has run so well, that's a smart thing to do," France said on SIRIUS/XM NASCAR radio after the incident.
Kenseth didn't view it as "a very smart decision." In his mind, Logano wrecked him on purpose, which essentially is what France acknowledged. Even though NASCAR's boss said taking out Kenseth was "a smart thing to do," Logano faced no penalty because NASCAR ruled it was just two boys having at it for the race win. Kenseth vehemently disagreed.
A week later at Talladega, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick was on the verge of elimination because of an engine issue when he moved up the track on the final restart of the race, hitting Trevor Bayne and bringing out a caution that ended the race and kept Harvick in the Chase. Harvick was not penalized either, despite all but admitting he brought the caution out deliberately.
Finally, after getting wrecked yet again, this time by Keselowski, Kenseth stuffed Logano into the Martinsville wall. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely not. But you can understand how a driver would feel that pretty much anything is fair game nowadays.
On top of that is the dirty little truth no one wants to speak of publicly -- Kenseth wrecking Logano was good for business for NASCAR. On a weekend with a full slate of NFL games and the World Series, NASCAR still cracked the mainstream sports headlines. Monday morning's water cooler talk was all about Kenseth vs. Logano. For that matter, Kenseth got thunderous applause when he got out of his car after fencing Logano. It was like being at short-track Bowman Gray Stadium on a Saturday night with bloodlust in the air.
Compared to some of the dog races we've had in the last 10 -- Richmond and Dover come to mind here -- Martinsville had fans more engaged than I've seen in a very long time.
And yet, you can't let a driver use a car for a weapon. You just can't.
So NASCAR made a decision to park Kenseth for two weeks.
And now there are a lot of unhappy people. But that's what happens when your mantra for the last five years is "Boys, have at it!" and then a couple of those boys have the temerity to actually do just that.
You can't have it both ways.