CHARLOTTE — Caught in the middle of the latest episode in a long-running controversy over whether tracks should use wrecks to promote NASCAR, Matt Kenseth can see both sides.
“If it’s so bad, you get suspended, if it’s that bad of an act, maybe it shouldn’t be used to profit from it,” the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran said Wednesday . “Because I certainly didn’t profit from it.
“But on the other hand, a lot of people come to see controversy and action and wrecks. That’s what the fans love.”
Martinsville Speedway is banking on that mass appeal to sell tickets for Sunday’s STP 500. The 0.526-mile track’s advertising campaign heavily has featured footage of Kenseth’s intentional wreck of Joey Logano in the Nov. 1 race.
Kenseth was nine laps down when his No. 20 Toyota hooked Logano’s No. 22 Ford from the lead and into the Turn 1 wall. Logano, who was 50 laps from scoring his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup victory after sweeping the second round of the playoffs, finished 37th and never recovered in his bid for the title.
Harshly condemning Kenseth for the crash, NASCAR reacted swiftly by suspending the 2003 series champion for two races. The punishment effectively was codified this year with new language added to the rulebook that specified penalties for affecting Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders.
That hasn’t stopped Martinsville, though, from promoting a good time by using bad behavior. Track president Clay Campbell defended the decision to use the crash in advertising earlier this week, and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said it was “fair game” if the drama wasn’t fabricated. Gossage has used postrace feuds and fights in marketing his races.
Campbell said the “golden rule” is tracks don’t cross the line of advertising with crashes that involved serious injuries, noting that the 1979 Daytona 500 ended with the fistfight between Cale Yarborough and Bobby and Donnie Allison that has been featured in incessant NASCAR replays.
But Kenseth also noted the issue is blurred because Martinsville’s parent company is International Speedway Corp., which is controlled by the France family that founded NASCAR. The companies share a headquarters in Daytona Beach., Fla., further muddying the lines of right and wrong.
“It’s hard to see both sides of it, because obviously it’s an ISC track, which is basically NASCAR,” Kenseth said. “So I don’t know. I understand if I’m the promoter. I’d do the same thing. I’m trying to put people in the stands and controversy and action. I can’t blame them, but it seems kind of … not what I’d expect if it’s really that bad of an act.”
Regardless of how the wreck was perceived, there is no debating its resonance.
How much does Kenseth hear from fans asking him about the incident?
“Every week,” he said. “Pretty much every week all winter.”