NASCAR suspended Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth on Tuesday for two races in his part of taking out race leader Joey Logano on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
The incident took place with 47 laps to go when Kenseth pile drove his car into Turn One and put the No. 22 into the outside wall. Lost in the fact is that two weeks prior Logano spun out Kenseth with five laps to go at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. That race was a must win for Kenseth in order to move onto the Eliminator Round and after leading the most laps, Kenseth had a 14th- place finish to show for it.
Leading up to the incident on Lap 453, the No. 20 got into another incident while racing for the lead on a restart just behind Logano when he and the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski made contact and ruining both of their days as well as Kurt Busch.
“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.”
NASCAR deemed that Kenseth’s part in the incident was extreme and not in the racing code, thus the reason for the two week suspension.
However, following the Kansas race, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France credited the ending to that race as "quintessential racing." The drivers were questioning the driver code in which they race under.
A Joe Gibbs Racing spokesman stated in a press release that JGR will appeal the suspension, but there was not a given date. If the appeal process has not happened before this weekend, then Kenseth is eligible to race this weekend in Texas. Otherwise, Joe Gibbs Racing development driver and current Camping World Truck Series points leader, Erik Jones will take the helm behind the No. 20.
At Bristol in April, Jones replaced Denny Hamlin after a lengthy red flag due to discomfort finishing 26th. Back in May, Jones filled in for the injured Kyle Busch at the Kansas Speedway and finished in the 42nd position after a late crash. Prior to the incident he hovered around the top 10.
The way that Kenseth denied on live television that he didn’t wreck Logano on purpose more than likely didn’t help his case. Of course he doesn’t want to come out and say that he wrecked the No. 22 on purpose, but maybe a better explanation would have been in his best interest.
“Some days you’re the bat, some days you’re the ball, it’s never any fun when you’re the ball,” Kenseth said about the incident. “The splitter was dragging things down and we got into the corner and unfortunately ruined his day. He’s got the best car, he has a couple of races left to till have a shot at it (championship). Certainly disappointed that it came down to that.”
Many of Kenseth’s peers weighed in on Twitter including teammate Hamlin and another current Toyota driver Clint Bowyer deeming that the penalty was too harsh and that NASCAR should “Free Matt.”
Kenseth is the 2003 Cup champion and has acquired 12 wins since coming over to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, ironically replacing Logano from the No. 20. Since moving to NASCAR’s top series Kenseth has an active streak of 571 consecutive races in which he has started, but that is in jeopardy has the second race in the Eliminator Round at Texas approaches.