AVONDALE, Ariz. — Pushed to his limit after three races worth of slights, Matt Kenseth firmly believed he had no choice but to retaliate against Joey Logano.
His deliberate wrecking of Logano drew a two-race suspension from NASCAR, and Kenseth said Friday he would have handled the payback differently had he known he’d draw such an unprecedented penalty.
But in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Kenseth said he would do it again.
“I really stand by my actions,” he said. “I feel like there’s a breaking point. It wasn’t just about being mad, it was about getting this fixed. It was time to make it stop.”
Logano spun Kenseth while racing for a win at Kansas that Kenseth needed to continue his championship chances. Kenseth retaliated two races later by wrecking Logano as Logano raced for a win at Martinsville Speedway that would have landed him a berth in the championship field.
Kenseth had returned to the track down nine laps after a wreck with Logano teammate Brad Keselowski.
“You have to have respect in the garage area. If you are going to go out and try to race for wins and race for championships, you can’t be a doormat or next year you are going to get knocked out again,” Kenseth said. “Drivers are going to be like, ‘Well, he ain’t going to do nothing. We’ll just knock him out of the race and then jack with him as much as possible and make sure he’s not going to make it through because he’s not going to retaliate.’
“At some point, in my opinion, you have to retaliate.”
His mood upbeat and his deadpan humor intact in a 30-minute interview from North Carolina, Kenseth accepted responsibility for wrecking Logano but insisted he feels no remorse that it potentially ruined Logano’s title chances.
Instead of winning Martinsville and earning a spot in next week’s championship finale, Logano is last in the eight-driver field and must win Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway to race for the Sprint Cup title.
Logano’s predicament is his own fault, Kenseth believes, because the young driver could have put an end to the feud at any point before Martinsville.
Instead, Kenseth felt Logano was “arrogant” and his comments over the next few weeks only infuriated Kenseth more. Kenseth also accused Logano of “doing everything in his power to try to aggravate me more” on track at Talladega the week after Kansas.
Then, as Kenseth raced Logano for the lead at Martinsville, he felt he was intentionally wrecked by Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski. Had the incident been an accident, Kenseth said he would have heard from Keselowski by now but has not been contacted by him.
“There’s a right and wrong way to do things, and most grown-ups would have tried to handle it better,” Kenseth said. “There’s just dozens of things that could have stopped it, and Joey never tried to reconcile it. I think everyone in the garage knew it was coming, and you would think (Logano) would be a little bit nervous and address it.”
Kenseth also said NASCAR failed to intervene and squash the feud. Kenseth couldn’t recall a time in his 16-year history that series officials didn’t sit down a pair of drivers who had on-track issues, and he felt backed into having to retaliate after chairman Brian France deemed Logano’s actions at Kansas “quintessential NASCAR.”
“I felt like I was almost encouraged. I felt like the comments almost condoned it, the way Brian France said Joey was smart in the way he strategically eliminated a threat for the title,” Kenseth said. “I just never dreamed, ever, that I’d get suspended for going back and evening the score.”
Kenseth views his behavior at Martinsville to be “parallel” to Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in 2012. Gordon was fined $100,000 but avoided suspension, even though the payback ended Bowyer’s title hopes.
Danica Patrick was fined $50,000 for intentionally wrecking David Gilliland at Martinsville. But Kenseth earned a two-race suspension — because of the stakes Logano had at the time — and he doesn’t believe the disparity in penalties is fair.
Kenseth will return for next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and admitted the first four days after the suspension were “were really hard on me” and he struggled to watch Erik Jones drive his race car. He watched Sunday’s race at Texas on television, and is eager to get back to his Joe Gibbs Racing team for the finale.
When he makes his return, he vowed to be more aggressive on the track than he’s ever been.
“It’s not going to change how I race, I’m going to be more fired up, probably less tolerant, and I’m planning on from here on out being a lot more aggressive,” Kenseth said. “I feel like sometimes I try too hard and I need to just let it be, there are some people who are just not going to like me.”
As for the Penske drivers, he added that his retaliation has likely had its intended effect:
“If it’s Joey or Brad or whoever the guy is in that spot, they need to think about that before they lift your rear tires off the ground at 200 mph and take you out,” he said. “I think Joey is going to think about that the next time. He may do the same thing, but he’ll think about that one way or another, we’re going to even the score.”