Matt Kenseth loses final appeal, to remain suspended for next two races

ByBob Pockrass ESPN logo
Friday, November 6, 2015

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth will remain suspended for the next two NASCAR events, as he lost both appeals Thursday in an attempt to overturn the sanctions issued by NASCAR for his actions Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

The 2003 Sprint Cup champion lost his appeal to a three-member NASCAR-appointed panel Thursday morning and then lost his final appeal in the afternoon to NASCAR Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss, a former Gulfstream executive.

"I'm obviously more than a little disappointed on the decision and the penalties to start with," said Kenseth, whose probation was reduced from six months to two months. "I'm the first driver in the 65-year history of NASCAR to get suspended for an [on-track] incident that happened in a Sprint Cup Series race. I felt I was unfairly made the example instead of knowing where the line is and what the penalties are.

"I'm extremely disappointed, but we'll get through this. I look forward to going to Homestead. I'm not going to change who I am. I am not going to change what I stand for. I'm not going to change how I race."

Kenseth also took to Twitter later Thursday expressing relief.

Kenseth will be replaced by JGR development driver Erik Jones at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend and Phoenix International Raceway next weekend. Kenseth can return for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"If that were to happen, obviously I'm going to do the best for them to keep them in contention [to be top-5 in the team standings] and hopefully have a good race for them," Jones said Thursday at Texas prior to the final decision.

NASCAR suspended Kenseth for intentionally wrecking leaderJoey Loganowith 47 laps remaining in the Eliminator Round opening race at Martinsville. Kenseth, who was 10 laps down at the time,appeared to be retaliating against Logano, who had turned Kenseth with five laps remaining at Kansas two weeks earlier while they battled for the lead.

Kenseth needed the win at Kansas to advance out of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Logano, who already had a bid to the Eliminator Round (the third round) because of a win at Charlotte, was able to keep Kenseth from advancing by beating him at Kansas. The crash at Martinsville put Logano in a deep hole in the Eliminator Round, as he currently sits 28 points from the cutoff to be one of the four drivers to compete for the championship Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR issued the unprecedented two-race suspension for on-track retaliation Tuesday, citing the impact on the Chase. JGR released a statement that it would appeal the penalty as being too harsh and inconsistent with past penalties for retaliation, which have been points and fines when done under green-flag conditions.

"We issue penalties for two reasons: We've got to punish you for what we think you've done wrong, and we have to make sure that we deter somebody else from doing exactly what you did or worse," NASCAR chairman Brian France said Wednesday on SiriusXM Radio's NASCAR channel. "That's why we can't be consistent with every single penalty because sometimes we've got to up the ante with a penalty because we don't believe the current remedy is a deterrent. That's one of the reasons that we arrived at a two-race suspension in this particular case."

The two-step NASCAR appeal process was expedited to have a decision before the race this weekend. Longtime NASCAR executive and consultant Ken Clapp, Bowman-Gray Stadium track promoter Dale Pinilis and Langley (Virginia) Speedway owner Bill Mullis heard the initial appeal. The panel said in a statement that it determined that Kenseth committed an act detrimental to stock car racing and affirmed the penalty.

The case then went to Moss, and the burden of proof changed from NASCAR having to prove its case to Kenseth having to prove his.

"All of us are just right now so disappointed," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "That guy right there [Kenesth] has spent 20 years in this sport. He had one other minor infraction. ... He's been great for NASCAR. Our reason for appealing is we felt like this penalty was kind of unprecedented and it was inconsistent with a number of other on-track instances -- one of those is exactly like this one.

"And yet this penalty against Matt is an unprecedented one."

Jones is used to the role as replacement driver. He replaced Denny Hamlin during the April race in Bristol after Hamlin suffered neck spasms. He replaced Kyle Busch three weeks later at Kansas while Busch was still recuperating from his broken leg and broken foot suffered in February at Daytona. The 19-year-old Jones cracked the top-10 in the race at Kansas but crashed with 70 laps remaining to finish 40th.

"I was really comfortable at Kansas," Jones said. "I was pretty happy with the way things were going up to the point where I lost it. Running up in the top-10 there and being competitive and being in contention definitely gave me a lot of confidence for the next opportunity I get, whether it be this weekend or whether it be a year or two years."

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