The Souza Files: NASCAR Has Lost Control of the Circus, and They Need to Get It Back

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Column by Race Chaser Online New England Correspondent Kyle Souza — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo —

Quite frankly, Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway was a complete joke.

Jeff Gordon scored his 93rd career victory in a dramatic green-white-checkered battle with Jamie McMurray, locking himself into the championship finale at Homestead in a few weeks. However, that was overshadowed by the antics of Matt Kenseth.

With only 47 laps to go on the half-mile track nicknamed the “Paper Clip,” Middletown, Conn. native Joey Logano was leading the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 with a dominant Shell/Pennzoil Ford. After his teammate Brad Keselowski was involved in an accident, he had the field covered on Sunday.

There was absolutely no question about that. Barring a big issue in the final laps, Logano was going to go on and score his fourth consecutive victory and lock himself into the championship finale at Homestead in three weeks.

At least, until Matt Kenseth — who was multiple laps down — deliberately slowed up for multiple laps until Logano caught him and Kenseth had the opportunity to piledrive him into the first corner wall.

Before we get to that, here’s a little back story on why Kenseth was even multiple laps down.

He was running fourth on a restart on lap 434 when he moved to the outside of Keselowski in turn one — that’s when the problems started. He went spinning off the front bumper of Keselowski off turn two, collecting Kurt Busch and a few others behind him — but that was basically the day for Kenseth. His Dollar General Toyota was destroyed. It had a lot of front and rear end damage and it appeared it would be the end of the day for him, a permanent trip to the garage area being in order.

Or so everyone thought.

Kenseth sat on pit road at the attention of his crew as they worked hard to try and get his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota back in racing condition, but the question really is:  Why? Why fix that car instead of just load up the wrangled mess and move on to Texas?

He was out of contention for the championship after being eliminated at Talladega Superspeedway the week before and even if he continued running in the race, the most he was going to gain was one position towards the championship. So why work so hard to go back on the track and run around in the back and finish right where you are running or maybe one spot ahead of that?

Simple:  Payback.

Kenseth deliberately slowed up for multiple laps, knowing Logano was in the lead and reliving the Kansas incident in his mind from just a few weeks before. Let’s go back there for a second.

Three weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth was leading the race in the final laps and was just in front of Logano, who had already won the first race in the Contender Round at Charlotte a week prior. If he went on to win, he would lock himself into the third round of the Chase without having to worry about going to Talladega on the defensive.

But Logano was coming. He had a fast race car and the New England native could smell another trophy waiting for him. So he went on the offensive, looking inside and out as he tried to find a way around Kenseth. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion was prepared, though — he threw several blocks in an effort to keep Logano’s Ford behind him, at one point all but putting Logano in the wall in the process.

And finally, enough was enough. Whatever the reasoning and whatever the thoughts going through both drivers’ heads, Kenseth went spinning in turn one off the front bumper of Logano with just a few laps remaining.

Did Kenseth block him and Logano just wrecked him by mistake racing hard? Was it purely a racing deal? Was it that Logano had enough with the blocking and sent a message to Kenseth?

We don’t know the answer to that — but boy, have a lot of people not named Logano and Kenseth tried to explain it over the past three weeks.

Now, let’s go back to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. Kenseth, who was 10 laps down after the lap 434 crash, deliberately slowed up and waiting for Logano. As soon as he got there, coming off turn four, Kenseth took his Dollar General Toyota Camry deep down into turn one, smashing into the left rear of Logano’s car and sending him straight into the outside wall in what appeared to be an intentional takeout.

Can I promise you that it was? No. I’m not Matt Kenseth. But did his words after the crash all but say out loud that it was? Absolutely.

If you want to be the judge, here’s your chance:

Now — let’s get to my point. NASCAR has lost control of their premier racing series, a division that is supposed to be the top stock car racing series in the United States.

This is not the first incident that NASCAR has had to deal with in the last few weeks. Not only was there the deal at Kansas a few weeks ago between Logano and Kenseth — we also saw some late-race drama at Talladega. Kevin Harvick was clearly much slower than the field with a car that was blowing up and looked up into his mirror on the final restart, hanging a right into Trevor Bayne in what also appeared to be an intentional move to save himself and his Chase chances.

Denny Hamlin didn’t get a chance to race for his Chase chances on the final laps at ‘Dega because of that melee. He was clearly outspoken following that event in pure disappointment. Not only did he have his words for the TV and radio reporters that put microphones in front of him right after it took place, he took to Twitter to share his frustration.

“What a joke [that] we have a car with no motor wreck the field to end the race. Complete crap. Sorry to anyone who spent [money] coming to this circus,” he tweeted last Sunday evening.

Now, again, I am not Kevin Harvick and I am not Matt Kenseth. But video allows for the space between the lines to be filled in pretty easily.

Maybe an overshadowed incident in Sunday’s race was when Danica Patrick took out David Gilliland late in the race. Gilliland made contact with Patrick sending her spinning early in the race and she ended up behind the wall and working for repairs.

“He unnecessarily, I thought, took me out at the beginning of the race,’’ Patrick told NASCAR Talk on Sunday afternoon“So I was just repaying the favor.’’

She admitted she dumped him. She went out there with a mission — to take him out — and she completed that goal.

Watch that incident here for yourself:

Was this the same as Kenseth taking out Logano? That’s for you to decide.

But in general, NASCAR has lost control. We can not have drivers intentionally taking each other out in a sport that already has a prior track record for loss of life. Even though there have been a ton of safety improvements in the past decade, the fact remains that climbing into a race car is still extremely, extremely dangerous and that doesn’t need to be compounded by ridiculous actions like we saw twice on Sunday.

Someone could seriously be hurt if this problem isn’t solved. Not next week, not next year, but now.

Should it really have to take someone coming right out and saying so?

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.


About the Writer

Kyle Souza is an aspiring Journalism major at the Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.  Souza is Race Chaser Online’s New England motorsports insider, covering everything from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and the PASS North Super Late Models.

When not writing, Souza works at the Seekonk Speedway as the track’s Friday night public address announcer and press writer, and is also the Media Director for the Tri Track Open Modified Series, managed by Dick Williams and the ‘Long Island Mod Maniac,’ James Schaefer.

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