NASCAR Made Matt Kenseth Dump Job Happen, And NASCAR Is Its Biggest Victim

Matt Kenseth (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Matt Kenseth (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Don’t blame Matt Kenseth.

When Kenseth gave Joey Logano a front bumper pile-drive into the wall Sunday at Martinsville Speedway it proved to be one of the most dramatic plays of on-track vengeance during a Sprint Cup Series event in years.

You can think negatively of Kenseth for what he did, you can lose respect for him for the action he took, but you can’t blame Kenseth one bit for doing it.

Blame NASCAR. Blame the system that has been created. There’s a reason why death row inmates have to be kept in solitary confinement. Because in general population they have nothing to lose.

The fact is, when NASCAR created a Chase system just over a decade ago, they opened the door to scenarios where you were going to have a lot of drivers on the track with essentially nothing to lose and a few drivers on the track with everything to lose.

And in creating the knockout Chase format introduced in 2014, they only made the nothing to lose revenge scenario that much more likely.

This much is certain. The “Chase” playoff system in the Sprint Cup Series has certainly ramped up drama and excitement in the series, and the knockout format introduced in 2014 only raised that drama exponentially.

But at what cost? The fallout going forward from Sunday will likely show what that cost could be.

The seed was planted on Oct. 18 during the closing stages of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Logano, with a clearly faster car, was running second to Kenseth. After getting blocked numerous times in attempts to get around Kenseth, Logano bumped and spun him out of the lead and went on to win. Logano had already clinched his free pass to the third round of the playoffs with a victory the week before at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A victory for Kenseth would have got him automatically to the third round too. Logano stole that chance away and Kenseth didn’t make it to round three.

Hence, nothing to lose.

Visit any form of social media last night or today and one can find plenty of people throwing out the stale argument of “this is what ‘Have at it boys” is all about.”

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Prior to the 2010 season, NASCAR exec Robin Pemberton made the now famous “Have at it boys” statement in describing NASCAR’s desire to let conflict blossom on the track. The quote has become basically cliché across all levels of NASCAR in arguing away any sort of conflict during events.

But “Have at it boys” is not what happened Sunday. “Have at it boys” was not what Kenseth did. “Have at it boys” means racing hard, with contact, and banging and beating, for position on the track. That’s the key word, position. Fighting tooth and nail to beat your competitor on the track.

Riding around nine laps down from the field and waiting for the leader to pull around you so you can slam him into the wall is not “Have at it boys.” Not even close.

But Kenseth had nothing to lose. What will NASCAR do? Fine him? Money is no object to professional athletes. Suspend him? Well, you have to believe for any of these championship contender types already knocked out, they’d welcome a few weeks off from having to race for essentially nothing.

To his credit – if you’re crediting dastardly plans that is – Kenseth’s “strategy” was astounding well played.

He didn’t wreck Logano at Talladega – a week after the Kansas incident – and exact his revenge immediately. No, Kenseth played the strategy of waiting until the next moment it could hurt the most. He let Logano get through Talladega knowing Logano already had a free pass to the next round no matter what he did at Talladega.

And while handing out the points for dastardly, one can’t ignore the fact that in a sport where a lot of guys make a lot of usually very hollow threats about payback, Kenseth promised payback publicly and exacted that payback in the most grandiose of fashions.

But the fallout?

First, is the “Blood Sport” factor. Yes NASCAR is trying to sell drama, but is this how they really want possible new fans to understand the sport to be? Nobody wants vanilla, but this is to the extreme. This is basically the New England Patriots leading the Baltimore Ravens by 50 points with five minutes left in the AFC Championship game and a defensive player purposefully breaking Tom Brady’s leg just because. Sure, compelling and riveting drama, but ugly and unbecoming for the sport at the same time.

Is it a positive that across the country Sunday night local TV sports anchors likely mocked NASCAR’s highest level division for being a bunch of guys running around looking to flatten each other into the wall for vengeance? Not a positive at all and not a characterization that is likely going to foster positive fan growth.

And what of the product on track going forward? The horses are out of the stable now. “Have at it boys?” No, now it’s free for all warfare.

It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the “Chase” system (and we happen to love it) but to have this system in place is to accept that this is going to happen, and probably now a lot more often.


  1. It’s the WWE on wheels. The races are too long and boring. The current format invites this stuff. If Logano does not make it to the final round the eventual winner will have a hollow title.

  2. So your theory is that we should just crown Joey the champion. Get over yourself.

  3. Partially agree with you Shawn. It is nascars fault. But not for the reason giving. Safety has really been kicked up 10 notches after Earnhardts but what caused his crash to begin with? He was blocking. Why did Kenseth get dumped by Logano an Kesolowski? Because he was blocking. All three mentioned wrecks are due by the front car mirror driven. If they curb that then you wouldn’t have the other crap happening. IMO

  4. NASCAR has turned into a joke. Their ratings are going down the toilet due to the lousy product the are selling to us fans along with the greedy ticket prices charged by the tracks. I used to go to every event at NHIS now its not worth the trip. Did anyone else notice all the empty seats at Martinsville? It used to be every race was a sellout now I don’t think any of them are but I could be wrong.

  5. Speedzzter says

    It’s apparently open season on Fords in NASCAR.

    Harvick performs the PITT Maneuver on Bayne’s Ford at Talladega . . . and NASCAR sees no evil.

    Talentless sideshow Danika dumps the 38 ford and repeatedly squawks about it on the radio, and the France mob says nothing.

    Then then that gutless turncoat choad Kenseth, “driving” for Traitor Joe Gibbs first repeatedly blocked a faster Ford at Kansas, then hit Fords several times (both at Talledega and Martinsville) before he accelerated into a race-leading Ford at Martinsville . . . to essentially end Ford’s chances at having a car in the Chase at the Ford 400.

    Kenseth should be banned for the rest of the season and Traitor Joe stripped of at least 100 owners points. Of course, if Traitor Joe were really the super “Christian” he claims to be, he’d punish Kenseth without any NASCAR prompting (that’ll never happen because Traitor Joe appears to be the most virulent stain of hypocrite).

    If NASCAR doesn’t start handing out some suspensions for these intentional wrecks, will FORD take the gloves off and start having their drivers wreck some Chase Chevys and Toyotas? Or will they just roll over (as usual)?

  6. Blocking? Well, I don’t buy the blocking issue. In order to race and pass, the trailing car needs to be not just better than the car to be passed, but much better. Do you think that Melissa Fifield can block Doug Coby? Never going to happen. The 2 car can fly by the 01 at will. But when two cars are close, and the car in back doesn’t have what it needs to get around, too bad. That’s racing. The lead car is not supposed to get out of the way and let the car that wants to pass go by. Do you have any idea how much more boring the “races” would be if all cars had to get out of the way of each other?

  7. Phoenix and Vegas sellout regularly. Darlington was a sellout this year. Martinsville normally draws well. Weather hurt them this weekend. In my mind what Harvick did last week and what Kenseth did this week were equal to what Waltrip Racing did at Richmond a few yrs ago. The penalties ranged from a near sports death penalty for MWR to nothing for Harvick to whatever Kenesth gets tomorrow. That’s my issue. The penalties are all over the place. Made for good TV though.

  8. Not a fan of the Chase. It’s too gimmicky, it’s too “reality TV” (which I hate). I’m old school… I want to see a champion crowned for their achievements across the whole season. The guy with the most wins ought be in the top 2 or 3 in points. Would have much rather seen an adjustment to the old point system (more points for wins… much more weighting for top 5s and top 10s… etc.).

    Also don’t think much of anybody who uses their car to settle a score. What if that wreck had involved a bunch of cars… Gordon, Truex? Is that how we want the championship decided? By being the team that manages to avoid getting wrecked? No thanks.

  9. NASCAR is the one who created this with their “let the boys have at it”. They got what they asked for so how are they going to punish someone without being a hypocrite.

    Harvic gets away with what he did last week but Boyer got penalized for what he did at Richmond. Both deals decided the outcome of the chase qualifiers.

    Then we have the 10 and 38 and nothing happens there?

    Our motto at NASCAR should be we are “consistently inconsistent”.

  10. I quess I’m torn here.
    So many say this will increase TV ratings, but they keep declining each and every week.
    Harvick and Kenseth (and Gordon) are all past champions, is that how they should act?? Shouldn’t we as fans expect better from them??
    I thought Logano at Kansas was a racing deal, and I didn’t think he was cocky afterwards, thought he was acting like a 25 year old kid.
    Wasn’t The boys have at it quote was to be about rubbing, door to door, bumping someone out of the way to win. Not wrecking and cheating and manipulating outcomes of races.
    Did anyone interview Coach Gibbs on Sunday?

  11. Good read.. thanks Shawn.

  12. If a fine is levied, it has to be commensurate with the levels of cashflows: cost to run and TOTAL income.

    When the red #36 Tour mod was caught with the big carb a couple years ago, the fine was $500, and the car kept the win and points. The fine was absurd, as in meaningless and inconsequential. If the carb was not confiscated, keep running the carb and pay the $500 fine to get the wins. If a fine is going to be imposed, it has to have bite, it has to hurt.

    At the Cup level, fines would have to be in the near seven figure levels to get the attention of the violators. NASCAR does not want to publish fines of those levels for the general public to see. It is laughable to see some of these fines given out in the $10,000 range at the Cup level. A fine of that level is inconsequential to the team, and nothing more than a cost of participating. To the fan in the stands that scrapes together the $50 or so to go to the race, $10,000 is HUGE. To the teams, $10,000 gets lost in the millions it takes for a competitive team to run an event. NASCAR and the sponsors do not want the general public to see the HUGE $$$$$$$$ that get passed around in the upper echelons.

    When you watch the championship banquet show, and the top drivers are called up to receive their points fund winnings, that amount is absurd, and inconsequential. It looks great to the folks that scrape together a few bucks to go to the tracks and buy a few beers, but in the overall cost of running a season, and the total compensation a driver gets, that payout from the points fund is a joke. But it makes for good TV. The cost of running a Cup team is in the mid-$10s of million per year. Keep that in mind when you see the points fund payout at the banquet.

    There is huge $$$$$$$$$ value in being a championship team. NASCAR doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to mete out significant point fines that would actually impact the chances of a team winning a championship.

  13. NAS CAR has a BIG problem, attendance and tv ratings, and Monster Energy pulling out. But the dictatorship refuses to do any thing drastic. How about reversing the point field for the starting line up every week, Give other cars Some chance to do something other than finish 20th or worse. This might make for better racing. How about a salary cap on spending for the year so 3 teams don’t dominate the races, and they definitely need to be shorter. Increase pit road speed, I could go on and on.

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