Jason Beck: When Does Payback Go Too Far?by Jason Beck November 2, 2015 0 comments
It was a Sunday afternoon in November, with the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup winding down. One driver was nearing a comfortable position entering the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the other was out for blood. Soon, the two would meet at a crossroad – where vengeance mixed with mechanical carnage to create one of the most talked about days in the sport’s history.
If you think I’m talking about Sunday’s on-track action at Martinsville between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano, you are wrong. The scene I described was at Pheonix International Speedway in 2012, when Jeff Gordon slowly circled the bottom of the racetrack waiting to destroy Clint Bowyer’s chances at a championship season. It was retaliation for an incident earlier in the year and an almost mirror image of the incident that took place three years later.
Yes, Gordon – Sunday’s hero at Martinsville – was once the villain. All those calling for Kenseth’s head on a platter should remember that NASCAR slapped Gordon on the wrist – a 25-point penalty, $100,000 fine and probation. I expect the same for Kenseth.
It’s always been this way. Two cars collide entering the first turn during the last short track race of the season. One driver’s championship hopes are effectively ruined by a driver looking to exact his revenge.
“I gave him the whole bottom lane, and he knocked the s*** out of me … they ought to fine that sumb**** and make him sit out the rest of the year.”
Think the above quote is from Logano? Think again. That’s the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, complaining to an ESPN TV reporter following the 1989 Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro. Earnhardt had just been crashed from the lead by Ricky Rudd. Like Kenseth, Rudd had a score to settle and exacted his revenge when it would hurt the most. Earnhardt fell from the points lead and ultimately lost the championship to Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt never achieved that record-breaking eighth championship, while Wallace benefited to inherit his only title. Rudd went unpunished.
As I sat in Turn 1 on Sunday at Martinsville, the fans around me erupted with joy at the sight of the two yellow cars smashing into the SAFER barrier. Ticket sales will increase. Ratings will be high for the rest of the season. But it is terrible for the sport of stock car racing.
I’m a racer myself, and there is a huge difference between the initial incident between Logano and Kenseth last month at Kansas and what took place at Martinsville on Sunday. The Kansas crash was a racing incident – two drivers battling hard for the lead with an unfortunate crash. Yesterday’s retaliation was … well … Logano’s description of “chicken you-know-what” probably fit best.
At the short tracks, I’ve seen it too many times. Last year, I had a car blaze by me at double the pace car speed to destroy a competitor’s car on a restart. Punches were thrown. Tempers flared. The police were involved.
One can only wonder if the “boys-have-at-it” behavior is trickling down to racing at the local level. Intentionally smashing your car into someone isn’t a sport – it is assault. I personally race for fun, and because I like the thrill of speed. If I want to see a circus, I’ll stick to Barnum and Bailey.