Citing the severity of Matt Kenseth‘s actions, NASCAR suspended Kenseth two races Tuesday for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. He also has been placed on probation of six months for this Behavior Penalty.
The monumental penalty provides a warning to drivers not to impact the Chase – something NASCAR Chairman Brian France alluded to in an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier in the day when he said: “We will make sure that what is the acceptable style of racing is always a part of NASCAR and what is not will not.”
“Based upon our extensive review, we have concluded that the No. 20 car driver, who is no longer in the Chase, intentionally wrecked the No. 22 car driver, a Chase-eligible competitor who was leading the race at the time,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “The No. 20 car was nine laps down, and eliminated the No. 22 car’s opportunity to continue to compete in the race.
“Additionally, we factored aspects of safety into our decision, and also the fact that the new Chase elimination format puts a premium on each and every race. These actions have no place in NASCAR.”
Joe Gibbs Racing will appeal the penalty, Marty Snider reported on NASCAR America on NBCSN. NASCAR has requested an expedited appeal process, Nate Ryan reported on NASCAR America.
The team stated that its appeal will challenge the severity of the penalty, which it believes is inconsistent with previous penalties for similar on-track incidents. Joe Gibbs Racing plans no further comments during the appeal process.
The suspension would end Kenseth’s streak of 571 consecutive starts, second only to Jeff Gordon‘s streak of 794 consecutive races among active drivers.
Problems started last month at Kansas when Kenseth and Logano raced for the lead in the final laps. Kenseth repeatedly blocked Logano. When Kenseth continued to do so, they made contact, causing Kenseth to spin and lose a chance to win that race and advance to the third round. The incident played a significant role in him failing to advance in the Chase.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France described the racing between Kenseth and Logano as “quintessential NASCAR.”
Two weeks later at Martinsville Speedway, Kenseth’s hopes of winning were dashed in a crash that started with Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski. Kenseth’s damaged car was 10 laps behind the leaders after being lapped by Logano. As Logano completed the move, Kenseth drove into the back of Logano’s car, sending both into the wall 45 laps from the end. Kenseth’s move cost Logano a chance at the win and to advance to the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday that there was a significant difference in the two incidents between the drivers.
“The reality is that in Kansas, what I said on this show was that late in a race we expect drivers to take chances to win races, they’ve got the skill to do it,” France said. “We expect them to race hard. Blocking is part of this game, as Matt was doing, and contact will happen in NASCAR from time to time.
“That’s really all that was, but the unfortunate thing for Matt is that he had a lot of on the line that day and it’s understandable the disappointment he had. Late in that race, a faster car is behind you and you’re blocking, there’s some contact and you get the short end of it and you go around. That was an entirely different situation than Martinsville.
“What we’re not going to do is to take the style of NASCAR and parlay that into something where one driver or another believes the way to pay back somebody for something that happened is to take matters into their own hands. Obviously, we won’t be accepting that. The most important thing is the way to pay drivers back is to race them hard. When someone races you hard, you race them hard. If they’re going to give you no inches late in the race, then that’s how you’re going to race them. That’s NASCAR. What happened on Sunday, that’s not quite the way we would have liked to have seen that turn out.”
NASCAR’s decision comes nearly three years after series officials did not suspend Jeff Gordon after he intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in the penultimate race of the 2012 Chase. Gordon, upset at contact with Bowyer earlier, turned into Bowyer, wrecking both and collecting Joey Logano in the incident. The conflict spilled into the garage where both teams scuffled after Gordon drove his damaged car there. NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000, docked him 25 points and put him on probation through the end of that year.