Though the line that separates acceptable racing practices from on-track over-the-line aggression may not be defined in bold paint like the line that marks the start and finish of a race, NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France contends that drivers know exactly where it is.
“Do you know how many drivers have come to see (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director) Richard Buck in the last two weeks, three weeks, four weeks?,” France asked rhetorically during his annual “State of the Sport” press conference Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' winner-take-all Championship Round race (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
“Zero. Zero drivers have asked us for a clarification on the so-called line. And the reason that they don't ask is they know.”
Questions about “the line” have arisen in the aftermath of Matt Kenseth's purposeful wreck of Joey Logano at Martinsville. On Nov. 1, Kenseth, nine laps down at the time, knocked race leader Logano’s Ford into the Turn 1 wall in retaliation for an incident at Kansas Speedway two weeks earlier, when Logano spun Kenseth for the win with fewer than five laps left.
France, however, drew a clear distinction between the two incidents.
“They (drivers) know that circumstances late in a race, blocking — although I'm not a fan of blocking — that's part of racing,” France said. "Blocking, contact, the short end of some of those exchanges that happen, are all part of it, and do not look to NASCAR to deal with that. They are part of racing.
“So the line is that if you intentionally, beyond part of racing — and there's contact, and who came up, who came down, who was more aggressive than somebody else and so on — if somebody is just intentionally banzaiing into some situation with the sole purpose of taking somebody out, we'll deal with that.
“We dealt with that in Martinsville, as a matter of fact. We'll deal with that at all times.”
Kenseth, in fact, served a two-race suspension for the Martinsville incident. During the week between Phoenix and Kenseth’s impending return in Sunday’s season finale, France met with Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs individually at the Joe Gibbs Racing shop.
“We were very disappointed, as you know, with what happened in Martinsville,” France said. “We reacted to that. We were coming down here to a championship weekend, and I wanted to make sure that that matter was behind us with Matt, with Joe Gibbs, and so on.
“I'm assured that it is. We had a good conversation about what had happened and what the thinking was, or whatever you want to call Matt's actions, and we talked about that. And it was a good conversation. Those kinds of conversations happen with us more frequently than not, so that's not a surprising thing. I felt good coming out of those meetings.”
France also feels extremely positive about the format of the Chase itself.
“I was talking to (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton the other day,” France said. “I said, ‘This might be the best thing we could have ever done for the quality of racing that we have ever done.’ And he said, ‘I think you're right.’ And we both kidded ourselves, because he and I both were the ones that were, believe it or not, against going forward with this format for a number of years - advancing it to an elimination and winner-take-all scenario.
“But we got exactly what we want, which is great racing. Obviously, when you get great racing, you're going to get great moments. We love great moments as anybody in sports does.”