Oh, where to begin?
NASCAR suspended Matt Kenseth for two races on Tuesday for his blatant crash of Joey Logano at Martinsville on Sunday. Logano was leading the race on lap 454 when Kenseth crashed him. Kenseth was laps down from a previous crash that happened with Logano just in front of him.
Kenseth's reaction wasn't surprising; many expected him to do something to Logano over the season's remaining races after the two made contact at Kansas while racing for the lead with five laps to go. The contact effectively ended Kenseth's title hopes while Logano swept all three races in the second round en route to the third round.
Why was the retaliation expected? We'll let Denny Hamlin explain after he was asked about the racing in the Chase. Hamlin has been one of the integral figures in the formation of the driver's council in the Cup garage.
“I don’t even know anymore, the structure in which we have around us is not very strong as far as an authority figure saying, ‘No, you cannot do that anymore.’ It’s just tough for us because this is what’s been created. I love (NASCAR chairman) Brian France, but when he says that drivers are doing what they have to do, it seems like he’s promoting this type of racing so that’s tough to crown a true champion when things go like this.”
And yes, Hamlin said racing changed in the Chase.
“Oh it changes it for sure – it’s a no holds barred, wild, Wild West," Hamlin said. 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.”
If Kenseth's actions Sunday were vigilante justice, they sure were well-received, not only by the cheering fans in attendance but by drivers and teams.
Does the widespread approval mean his act was less vigiliante and more tenured sheriff in a self-policing garage? NASCAR has prided itself on letting drivers settle disputes over the years. And its drivers have certainly provided dramatic moments for the sport to promote as they've done much disputing and very little settling.
The lack of settling was why NASCAR needed to make a move on Tuesday. NASCAR saw this snowball and had to blow it to smithereens before it did more damage than it already had done.
Hell, Kenseth himself was searching for an authority figure just a week ago at Talladega, something that makes his move at Martinsville even more incredible. He called the racing out of control and subsequently proved his point. Not only did Kenseth piledrive Logano, he itched a rash of public squabbling so hard that NASCAR had no choice but to search for the strongest topical ointment possible.
But even after it temporarily stopped the itch, drivers were left confused. Days after he called the wild west atmosphere a bad statement, Hamlin didn't take too kindly to the sanctioning body's use of authority.
Kenseth's suspension is a race longer than Kyle Busch's in 2011. Busch, the last driver to be suspended for on-track conduct, wrecked Ron Hornaday under cation in a Truck Series race.
"There's an unspoken driver code ... any race car driver that's been doing this long enough understands what the driver code is and I feel like the driver code that's been established since racing has ever begun 100 years ago, that driver code is more compromised than ever," Hamlin said on Fox Sports' RaceHub on Tuesday. "And NASCAR said in years past, and they said even this year that they like the drivers to police themselves. And he was policing the driver code in my opinion."
"When someone does you wrong, they have an opportunity to defuse the situation by a phone call or talking to you at the race, any kind of thing like that. Or even through the media they can say they made a mistake. I feel like none of that happened and instead it was kind of a 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry about your luck. You're going to have to to deal with it because this is how I'm going to handle it.' And that probably frustrated Matt. And on top of that I don't think Joey reached out to Matt to defuse the situation. So Matt thought it was in his driver code to take care of the situation. And that's what he did."
Following the Kansas incident, Logano maintained his contact with Kenseth was not an intentional spin and rather just hard racing.
If Hamlin's confusion at how the situation was handled has you confused, you're likely not the only one. The confusion is on NASCAR. The snowball was once a snowflake. But as drivers started fulfilling NASCAR's desire for drama and promotable moments, the sanctioning body helped incite an avalanche. And it needed to be stopped before it's prized possession, the winner-take-all race for the title at Homestead, got swamped in a pile of filthy snow.
Hamlin also hasn't been the only driver to talk about a code among drivers. Kenseth said he's always raced drivers how they've raced him. Tony Stewart has famously ranted against blocking; most notably when he was blocked by Logano and confronted him at California in 2013.
But Kenseth was the one blocking multiple times at Kansas. Is this a generational thing among Cup drivers? Logano, at 25, could be in the final four for the second-straight year. If he wins the title, he'd be the youngest driver since Jeff Gordon in 1995 to win a Cup title.
Only two drivers under 30, Kurt Busch in 2004 and Brad Keselowski in 2012, have won Cup titles since Gordon did in 1995. All three of those drivers faced scrutiny among their peers and fans for their driving styles as they emerged as stars. Is the talk of violating an unspoken code, well, simply code for a lack of acceptance of Logano among the sport's veterans?
Or is it a case of drivers abiding by different sets of personal rules forced to mingle in a sandbox that previously didn't have an adult paying close attention until someone got smacked upside the head with a shovel?
And if so, is the adult going to keep paying attention in the future?
“Every driver has a different code," Keselowski said in Race Hub. "You can’t go off of driver codes because one driver’s code is different than another driver’s code, and they’re going to clash. That’s just been the story of racing from day one and will continue to be. So, the line is, and always will be, in the NASCAR trailer and in the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach and in Concord (North Carolina). That’s the line. Whatever they decide, and that’s what we found out.”
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