NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended the different penalties to Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick for their retaliations at Martinsville and said that penalties were increased to Kenseth to deter any other driver from doing the same thing again.
France, who spoke Wednesday afternoon on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, also said reiterated that contact is acceptable, mentioned Ryan Newman’s slamming of Kyle Larson at Phoenix last year to advance to the championship round as an acceptable form of racing.
NASCAR suspended Kenseth two races on Tuesday for wrecking Joey Logano while Logano led with 45 laps to go at Martinsville and was in position to advance to the championship round with a win. Kenseth was 10 laps down at the time.
France said on “Sirius Speedway” that Kenseth deserved a stiffer penalty than Patrick ($50,000 fine and docked 25 points) because her retaliation against David Gilliland involved two drivers not racing for the championship.
“They’re similar in many ways but they are very different because of the stakes that were on the line with the Chase,’’ France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Going back to Richmond we’ve been very clear when anybody in the industry, any driver or participant intentionally tries to alter the outcome of events or championships, that crosses a different line than a racing problem between two drivers. So obviously the significance of what was on the line had to be taken into consideration.’’
France also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the Kenseth penalty would be used to prevent similar actions toward drivers in title contention.
“What’s important for us to make sure to deter that in the future,’’ France said. “I know there’s a lot of discussion about consistency in our penalties and there should be and that’s part of the equation.
“We issue penalties for two reasons. We’ve got to punish you for what we think you’ve done wrong, and we have to make sure that we deter somebody else from doing exactly what you did or worse. That’s why we can’t be consistent with every single penalty because sometimes we’ve got to up the ante with a penalty because we don’t believe the current remedy is a deterrent.
“That’s one of the reasons that we arrived at a two-race suspension (to Kenseth) in this particular case. It has to be a deterrent because there are clear rules of the road.’’
But France also stated that contact can be acceptable – as it was between Kenseth and Logano in the final laps at Kansas, as it was between Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon last year at Texas and between Newman and Larson at Phoenix.
“How many times have you heard me say that this is a contact sport?’’ France said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s likely to be contact throughout an event, particularly late in the race. It happens all the time. It happened, as an example, Ryan Newman at Phoenix … where he leaned on pretty hard, with some contact with Kyle Larson with a lot on the line. That’s part of NASCAR. Kyle Larson got the short end in that particular exchange.
“Ryan Newman was operating within the rules of NASCAR. You can drive aggressively and if there’s a little bit of contact, then we understand that. There’s nothing new that went on at Kansas that doesn’t go on all the time.
“Now it was very unfortunate with the circumstances Matt got dealt on that particular day because he needed to win, he was trying move on in the round, we understand that. What happened, frankly, as I said before, was quintessential NASCAR.’’
France also was asked about Denny Hamlin’s comment that he questioned where the line was with what was acceptable after NASCAR’s penalty to Kenseth and if that was a valid concern.
“No,’’ France said. “The reason is we have a door that is wide open every day at the race track. Richard Buck, who is our series director … is happy to explain exactly where the lines are in NASCAR. We have 60 years of competing and having races run in a certain style. If you have any questions about that, you can walk in and he will explain it in five minutes for you. It’s very simple, it’s very easy to understand.’’
Asked if NASCAR needed to formalize a driver code, France was emphatic.
“The code of conduct is the rule book,’’ France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Naturally, there’s all kind of things that we can’t regulate in words with a rule book that are going to happen with 43 teams out there competing on a high level, we’re going to have make some calls along the way. We can’t predict every scenario in the rule book.
“The most importing thing, there’s 60 years of experience with drivers and races and how we look at what is good, old-fashioned, great NASCAR competition, that tight, close racing that does have contact from time to time. There is a 60-year history of lines that are crossed, what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s there for anybody to see. We try to be as consistent as we can in making calls along the way.
“Having said that, sometimes we have to increase penalties because the circumstances are much different than what they were 10 years ago. Monetary fines may not mean so much to somebody, but what we’ve got to do with any penalty is to deter somebody from doing something in the future. So we have to make sure the penalty matches the proper deterrence. That’s a balancing act for us because we want to be consistent. We don’t want to surprise people with penalties out of nowhere, but we also have to make sure that we’re looking ahead.’’