NASCAR’s Big Mistake Came Long Before Tuesday

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No stranger to controversy, NASCAR has lit up social media with their announcement Tuesday that Matt Kenseth would be parked for two races following his actions at Martinsville last Sunday against Joey Logano. From this observer’s perspective, NASCAR’s big mistake was not in how it ruled against the former champion- what else could they have done? You can’t have a driver- laps down- submarine a championship contender leading a race, that’s not right!

I know what you’re thinking, “what about what Logano did to Kenseth at Kansas?” Let’s be clear: I am quite sure that if I were in Matt Kenseth’s shoes, I might have done the same thing. Wait, no I wouldn’t have. You know what I would done at Kansas? If I were Matt Kenseth, I would have cornered him after the race and kicked the crap out of him in a fashion similar to what he did to Brad Keselowski at Charlotte last year. To me, “boys have it” meant a drivers could fight it out like a couple of drunk Irishmen afterwards; history suggests using your car to settle a score would likely land you in the penalty box. Having said that, I still really don’t blame one of the coolest, most collected customers in NASCAR for exacting a measure of revenge against Logano. Sure, they were going for a win at Kansas, AND if you are blocking- which Kenseth was- you can expect you might get tagged.

I’m not saying I entirely blame Logano for what he did at Kansas either. For the better part of his four season at Joe Gibbs, the kid was a kind of a NASCAR pin cushion. Does Pocono and the name Kevin Harvick ring a bell? If a driver is going to last in this sport (and believe me, I use the term more and more loosely every day when it comes to NASCAR), he eventually has to make it clear at some point he may go from being bullied to the bully. More than once, Joey Logano has made it abundantly clear he is to no longer be pushed around. My problem with Kansas is that he did it to a driver he had no real history with, for a win he didn’t really need.

Now, this is where things get sticky. You’ll note I said Logano didn’t need the victory. He’s still bound to pursue the win for his team, for his sponsors and for the integrity of the sport, right? Remember, NASCAR wants its drivers going 100-percent for the win- no ifs, ands, or buts. Chasing the win in such in a fashion as Logano did- in my view- short-sighted and an invitation for future grief, such as he got at Martinsville. As has been said by others, Logano could have raced Kenseth cleaner and maybe he wins, maybe he doesn’t.

Life is not a movie. If it appears I am cutting both participants in this controversy a little slack, it’s because I am. Imagine there is no elimination-style Chase format, all of this plays out a lot differently; even Captain Obvious could figure that one out. Since going to the current Chase format last season, we’ve had plenty more drama, but its not a drama borne out of good racing. ESPN’s Ricky Craven had it right- his door-to-door battle with Kurt Busch back in the day was “quintessential racing,” not the mess we’ve had in recent weeks. That’s not sports, that’s “racertainment.”

Consistency is completely missing in how NASCAR metes out punishment. NASCAR’s big mistake was in not punishing Jeff Gordon for wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix a couple of season’s back. Knowing there was the potential for what we have now, NASCAR should have spelled out what was and was not proper decorum as it pertains to how competitors race each other. How hard would it be to say, “if you’re being blocked, you can expected you might get punted. That’s a risk you take, and we won’t penalize  contact, provided it isn’t a deliberate attempt to wreck somebody.” How hard can it be to say, “if you wreck a race leader when you’re laps down, you will be punished in the according fashion.”

If you want to mimic the stick and ball sports, take it all the way. It means there will be more rules, but the rules will be spelled out in such a way, that even a stone newbie can understand it. NASCAR’s big mistake was not in punishing a driver for unsportsmanlike conduct, NASCAR’s big mistake was in their continued haphazard management of the racers.

I want to find the guy who thought it would be a good idea to let the drivers police themselves. I want to sell him some Florida swamp land. Letting drivers police themselves is like making a corrections officer out of Charles Manson.