HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — As Matt Kenseth weaved his way through a pack of autograph seekers, a man stood firmly in front of him and reached out to shake Kenseth’s hand.
“We all respect you, Matt,” the fan told Kenseth.
“Thanks, man,” he replied.
Kenseth returned to the race track for the first time since he was suspended for two races by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano as payback. The action drew the unprecedented penalty from NASCAR and ultimately cost Logano a spot in the Sunday’s championship field.
Before practice on Friday, Kenseth said he met with Logano at NASCAR’s request.
“I think everything will be fine there,” Kenseth said. “I mean, I wish none of it had happened, obviously. There’s probably certain things we’ll never agree on, but I think long-term it will be fine and we’ll work it out.”
There are many who believe the two feuding drivers should have cleared the air after their October clash at Kansas, where Logano spun Kenseth to win a race that Kenseth needed to advance in the playoffs. Kenseth was seething about the incident for the next two weeks, and finally snapped at Martinsville after he’d been wrecked by Logano’s teammate. Kenseth returned his damaged car to the track down nine laps and deliberately wrecked Logano as Logano was headed to the victory.
In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Kenseth said he couldn’t recall a time in his 16 seasons that NASCAR did not attempt to broker peace between feuding drivers. Kenseth also felt he’d been encouraged by NASCAR chairman Brian France to retaliate because France praised Logano’s actions at Kansas as “quintessential NASCAR.”
France on Friday said series officials had no way of knowing the situation would escalate the way it did, but in hindsight, the two drivers should have talked at Talladega when Kenseth made it publicly clear he was still angry.
“If I would have thought that would have helped, we would have definitely sat them down,” France said. “We didn’t think anything of it at that point. What was said afterward and done at Talladega and all that, that sort of happened and we didn’t think anything of it. Frankly, as I said, it was a quintessential thing that happens in NASCAR. I said it was a very smart decision or move that strategy wise that Joey did to take a six-time winner and the hottest team in NASCAR and put him on the outside of the Chase looking in. But maybe (Kenseth) misunderstood that.”
Kenseth met this week with France, but declined to reveal any specifics about the conversation.
“It’s always nice to get face time with somebody and understand their point of view and have them understand yours,” he said.
Asked if he had a better understanding of NASCAR’s reason for suspending him, Kenseth replied: “Sure.”
France said the meeting was to close the door on the suspension and move forward into NASCAR’s title-deciding finale.
“We were very disappointed, as you know, with what happened in Martinsville. We reacted to that,” France said. “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.”