Opinion: Want to end on-track retaliation? Park both Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick
NASCAR faces a tough decision in how it will handle Sunday's incident between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway.
Kenseth and the Team Penske drivers Logano and Brad Keselowski have had issues for more than a year, and after being eliminated from championship contention -- in large part due to Logano -- Kenseth had enough.
Kenseth and Logano tangled racing for the lead late at Kansas Speedway, with Kenseth spinning and missing out on a much-needed win. Afterwards, Kenseth laid the groundwork for payback, saying the contact was "strategically" not "a great decision" for Logano.
The two also had a run-in last weekend coming to pit road under green at Talladega Superspeedway, with Kenseth saying he wanted to "knock out" Logano after the race. Logano went to Victory Lane and Kenseth was knocked out of the Chase.
After Talladega, Kenseth was vocal.
"It feels we lost control here the last two weeks," he said then. "I don't think that's what racing is about. The spot they put us in, it's hard to blame people, but that's not what racing's all about."
Out of contention for race win on Sunday, Kenseth made sure if he could not win Logano would not win, either.
On Lap 454 of 500, limping around with a heavily damaged car, Kenseth drilled Logano's car and did not stop until both cars were destroyed and done for the day.
Kenseth played coy, claiming damage from earlier contact cut a tire and his car would not turn as it reached the corner.
With nothing left to lose, Kenseth himself lost control, retaliated against Logano and ignited a firestorm of controversy.
Some are calling for NASCAR to suspend Kenseth; others are chastising those people for having a double standard, wanting and promoting retaliation, yet calling on a severe punishment when it happens.
Up to this point, NASCAR has seemed OK with letting the competitors figure things out for themselves on the track.
Since the 'Boys, have at it,' policy was introduced in 2010, drivers have been encouraged to settle their differences without the over-reaching arm of NASCAR stepping in. This has led to exciting and memorable moments, most of which are replayed on highlight reels and promotional spots for upcoming races.
On multiple occasions, a driver has intentionally wrecked a fellow competitor, yet few have faced serious repercussions.
When Carl Edwards sent Keselowski soaring through the air and hard into the frontstretch wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2010, he was placed on probation for three weeks. No fine. No suspension. No loss of points.
By the way, Edwards was over 150 laps down at the time while Keselowski was running sixth.
When Jeff Gordon purposely wrecked Clint Bowyer in the penultimate race of the 2012 season, NASCAR delivered yet another slap on the wrist. Gordon received a $100,000 fine, lost 25 points and placed on probation until the end of the season -- one whole race.
Nowadays, retaliation is expected, encouraged by some within the sport and largely accepted by the sanctioning body.
Case in point: When Danica Patrick was pushed out of the groove by David Gilliland early in the going Sunday at Martinsville she vowed payback. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver spent the remainder of the race keeping an eye out for Gilliland's car in the hopes of getting her revenge.
On Lap 419 of 500, she tried to wreck Gilliland, spun herself out instead and then proceeded to heavily damage both cars under caution. NASCAR's response? Simply throw the 13th caution of the day and keep going.
What has been created by this lax policy is much worse than 'Boys, have at it.' As Denny Hamlin pointed out Sunday, now it seems like anything goes.
"It's a no holds barred, Wild, Wild West," said Hamlin. "Sure, when people crown the statement that a driver's doing what he's got to do and they became okay with that statement, you're just opening up Pandora's box -- everyone is just doing what they have to do I guess. It's a bad statement, it's an ugly statement. I wish we could all do this fair and square and the fastest person win, but I just don't know if that's going to be the case."
Hamlin hits the nail on the head. The 'Boys, have at it' policy was created to do away with the overarching control NASCAR had on the drivers, many of whom retreated from their personalities and aggressiveness in fear of secret penalties and/or fines.
Now we have the complete opposite. It appears, based on the comments of Kenseth at Talladega and Hamlin at Martinsville, the drivers have little faith in the sanctioning body's ability to keep the competitors in check.
Know how to make that happen and regain control? The answer is simple; park Kenseth and Patrick for next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway. Both drivers showed intent, manipulated the overall outcome of the race and wrecked a fellow competitor.
The argument against suspension is that NASCAR did not suspend Edwards in 2010 and they did not suspend Gordon in 2012. Logano was not penalized for his contact with Kenseth in Kansas, and Kevin Harvick walked away from Talladega with no issues after many of his competitors claimed he wrecked the field on purpose on the final restart.
If that's the mindset moving forward, this practice of exacting revenge, wrecking cars and manipulating the outcome of races -- and ultimately the championship -- will continue.
Park Kenseth, park Patrick and make examples out of them. Otherwise, this practice continues on to Texas this weekend, Phoenix the next and quite possibly at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the Sprint Cup title is ultimately decided.