COMMENTARY: NASCAR suspends Matt Kenseth: Is the current playoff system partially to blame?

by Lee Warren, Newswriter |
Feb 14, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates after winning the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. | Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER) — NASCAR said enough is enough Tuesday afternoon and suspended Matt Kenseth for the next two Sprint Cup Series races for his role in a crash with Joey Logano in Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway.

Kenseth was also placed on probation for the next six months.

Lee Warren

Many view the incident as Kenseth's response to the race at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago when Kenseth blocked Logano in the closing laps while racing for the lead, and ultimately, the win. Logano made contact with Kenseth, causing him to spin out, costing him the race and ending his chance to move on to the next round of the Chase.

It was disappointing for Kenseth, no doubt, but his apparent response at Martinsville was not the equivalent of what happened between the two at Kansas.

Kenseth, who was multiple laps down on Sunday at Martinsville, appears to have purposely altered the outcome of a race in an exhibition of poor sportsmanship. But he's probably not the only one to do so lately. Last week at Talladega, many believe Kevin Harvick — whose engine was about to expire — intentionally wrecked Trevor Bayne to end the race under caution so he wouldn't lose his spot in the Chase.

What we're seeing in this Chase isn't racing; it's more like professional wrestling. It's not scripted by the sanctioning body like wrestling, but when the sanctioning body allows, and some might even say encourages ("boys have at it") participants to alter the outcome of a race just because they don't like the way something went down, then the sanctioning body has become part of the problem.

Today, NASCAR seemed to recognize that and took steps to correct it by finally drawing a line in the sand. The problem is, the "boys have at it" policy has always been more about the show than the competition, and that should never be the case. The show is important, but it should never be artificially generated or manipulated.

I started watching NASCAR in 2005, near the end of the season, knowing very little about the sport. But the final restart with eleven laps to go at Homestead-Miami Speedway turned me into a fan.

During the final run, Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney and Mark Martin battled for the lead. At one point during the run, they were three-wide going into Turn 2. Biffle eventually shot between Blaney and Martin, grabbing the lead. Blaney was on old tires so he began to fade while Martin charged hard after Biffle. Martin and Biffle were side by side as the white flag flew — signaling one lap to go.

They were still side by side coming out of Turn 2 and they raced down the back straightaway. Neither driver could shake the other and they entered Turn 3 just inches apart from one another. Martin dipped to the bottom of the track while Biffle went up high—taking a slight lead. Martin charged back in Turn 4 and they raced to the finish line. Biffle crossed the line 0.17 seconds ahead of Martin to win the race.

I don't think I've ever seen such an exciting finish to a sporting event. After Martin got out of his car, he expressed his disappointment in the classiest of ways.

"Man it was close," Martin said. "I thought we were going to pull it off. We were just inches short. I guess maybe we needed another lap — or maybe I'd of crashed trying. I raced Greg hard and I raced him clean and vice versa. And he was in front when it was over."

I was fascinated by a sport that provided such high drama while also honoring a code that promoted racing each other cleanly. Unfortunately, this new playoff format has created the opposite effect. Points don't matter as much as they used to because NASCAR has placed such a high premium on winning races.

But at what cost?

Many fans at Martinsville, who were perhaps caught up in the moment, cheered with delight when Kenseth wrecked Logano and maybe that's how the world feels. But is vigilantism really what we — as Christian sports fans — want to see in athletics? Or would we rather see the spirit of competition prevail?

Lee Warren is the author of "Racin' Flat Out for Christ: Spiritual Lessons from the World of NASCAR." He has also written numerous devotional books for publishers such as Revell, Barbour Publishing and others, as well as Bible curriculum for Wesleyan Publishing House