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NASCAR: Kenseth on skids after Logano's bumper shot

Joey Logano, the winning driver at the Kansas Speedway called it "hard racing." Roger Penske, the winning team owner called it a "racing accident." Matt Kenseth, the driver knocked out of the lead within five laps of a victory crucial to his NASC...

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Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, spins as Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, races by during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 18, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Joey Logano, the winning driver at the Kansas Speedway called it "hard racing."

Roger Penske, the winning team owner called it a "racing accident."

Matt Kenseth, the driver knocked out of the lead within five laps of a victory crucial to his NASCAR Sprint Cup championship hopes, called it "kind of risky and not very smart."

So it went in the postmortem after Logano knocked the Toyota of Kenseth out of the groove to win a second straight Chase race in Round 2. Kenseth, who led 153 laps and needed a win to advance to Round 3, now has bleak prospects. He must get that victory at the unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to keep his title hopes alive.

Although it was his fifth victory this season, it may be difficult for Logano to sustain his drive for a first title without a lot of question marks about how he eliminated a strong contender. Up until he knocked Kenseth out of the way, the Toyota driver had defeated Logano's passing efforts in a spirited but clean duel. Twice those efforts resulted in Logano glancing off the SAFER barriers. But Kenseth did not do anything worse than beat his adversary to the fastest groove

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Kenseth said he was disappointed given that Logano had already qualified for Round 3 by a victory in Charlotte and that his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had made no contact with the Ford.

"It's the end of the race and I was trying to stay in front of him the best I could and I was in front of him," said Kenseth. "I didn't do anything wrong to him. The race track is 80 or 100 feet wide down there (in Turn 1) and I was in front of him. He just chose to spin me out because he wanted to be in the top groove instead of going left and trying to race me for the win the way a man should do it."

Logano acknowledged he retaliated after Kenseth's blocking maneuvers, saying he raced Kenseth the same way the Toyota driver raced him. "I got fenced twice," he said. "I wasn't going to put up with it."

If Logano was faster - and the better driver - why not set up an opportunity to prove it in the remaining laps?

Team owner Penske came to Logano's defense by saying the ramming was not intentional - although Kenseth wasn't accepting that explanation. Penske said his driver "turned down, Joey did, to take the lower lane and there was another car up there - I think a slower car - and then Kenseth came down. Unfortunately, they got together. I don't like to see that anymore than anybody else does. It's one of those racing accidents. It's real tough when it's in this kind of a situation, but there was no question that Kenseth was doing everything he could to keep Joey from going by."

Logano's ramming had the ring of the ol' Saturday night short track maxim. If a driver can reach an adversary's rear bumper, goes this line, it means he is faster. So the trailing driver has the right to win by rooting his adversary out of the groove. But the action in Kansas took place on a 1.5-mile speedway at a speed in the 180 mph range and reaching a rear bumper doesn't mean a driver is necessarily faster. In the big leagues, catching is one thing and passing another. The onus is on the trailing driver to make a clean move.

Would Kenseth have raced another driver differently? Given the Chase format, that would have been unlikely. The incident spoiled an outstanding contest - the kind NASCAR and fans had been looking for under the high-pressure Chase brackets. Going forward, there's the specter of Kenseth giving Logano a payback later in the Chase to make sure the Penske driver doesn't win it.

The incident also brought back the memories of Logano's early days at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he moved into the Sprint Cup as a teenager. He constantly had veteran drivers retaliating for what could be considered "risky and not very smart" passing maneuvers. After the team and sponsor Home Depot lost confidence in him, his contract was not renewed and Logano was picked up by Penske's team, where a pairing with Brad Keselowski and some strong Fords helped him get a second start on his career, which now includes a Daytona 500 victory.

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Among other ironies, it was Kenseth who became the fourth driver on the Gibbs team under new sponsorship once Logano was let go. Kenseth, who scored seven victories in his first season with Gibbs, said he counted himself one of the few veteran drivers who had not gotten into a spat with Logano during the latter's formative years and had congratulated the Penske driver on this year's success not long before Sunday's race began.

"I'm one of the only guys that I think hasn't been into it yet with Joey and I've always raced him with a ton of respect," said Kenseth. "I've actually been one of his biggest fans - I'm certainly not anymore, but I always was."

The other large irony looming concerned the origin of the Chase itself. When Kenseth won the 2003 championship under the old Latford system, he scored only one victory and took the title in a Roush Racing Ford by consistency. During the following winter and the first months of Kenseth's reign, NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. suggested that the sport needed a championship format where fans believed the winner truly was a champion. It was a message echoed by the media.

The Chase was born the following season. Kenseth's lifelong dream of winning a title was soured by getting tagged as the guy who created the need for a new format. The amiable Wisconsonite disappeared in favor of a sharper-edged, sardonic wisecracker.

This year, Kenseth appeared to be headed for possible redemption and his first title under the Chase. But the latest format of three-race rounds before a title showdown at the Homestead-Miami Speedway appears to have caught him out. That and the bumper of a Penske Racing Ford.

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By Jonathan Ingram, The Sports Xchange

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