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Plenty of hype surrounding Joey Logano's and Matt Kenseth's return to Martinsville

Matt Kenseth was nine laps down when he spun Joey Logano at Martinsville last November. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway this week, and while the participants of the most notable wreck from November have tried to move on, no one will forget that race anytime soon.

Many would view the Nov. 1 race as the ultimate in NASCAR retaliation and vigilante stock-car justice, an act that resulted in NASCAR's harshest penalty ever to a Sprint Cup driver for an on-track incident.

Fed up with getting crashed, a nine-laps-down Matt Kenseth drove leader Joey Logano into the wall with 46 laps remaining. That retaliation, while cheered by many in the crowd as it ended Logano's day, resulted in Kenseth getting parked for the rest of the race and a suspension for the next two events.

"We were very disappointed, as you know, with what happened in Martinsville," NASCAR chairman Brian France said a few weeks after the affair.

But not everyone seems all that disappointed. Martinsville, one of the tracks where the NASCAR-ruling France family owns the majority of the stock, uses video of that wreck in a commercial as it tries to sell tickets for the race this weekend.

Fans couldn't get enough talk about the intentional crashing of Logano during the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year, so a track naturally would want to build on that drama. But NASCAR deemed that act worthy of a two-race suspension. If such a disappointing act warranted suspension, does the track condone it -- and even celebrate it -- by putting it in a commercial?

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said Tuesday he wouldn't use any highlight of a crash if someone gets hurt but in this situation no one got hurt and what NASCAR did with the two drivers afterward "is between them."

"It wasn't a difficult decision," Campbell said. "Yeah, it stirred up controversy, but what do people want me to show? The pace lap? I mean, really. That would be like you guys -- you write about the deal after it happened but you can't do it anymore? Is that going to sell newspapers, is it going to sell what you do?

"I get paid to sell tickets. I don't think that [ad] crossed over the line. ... I wouldn't think twice about it. Unfortunately somebody did get penalized on it and that was the main part about [negative feedback], but we didn't make a highlight out of that. It was a small blurb [in the ad]."

Kenseth, speaking in January about the incident and not the commercial, said he understood the fan fascination with his retaliation.

"Race fans like that stuff, they really do," Kenseth said. "I don't particularly like it, but the race fans like it and they like to watch it and that's how racing has been ever since I started watching NASCAR -- you wreck me, you might get wrecked back. That's how it's always been.

"A lot of the fans, especially old-school fans, no matter who they are a fan for, probably like to see some of that action again instead of everybody being clean and liking each other so much."

Both Kenseth and Logano said in the preseason they would try to put the incident behind them. They haven't had any contact on track this year.

They both still think the evidence backs up the reasoning behind their acts. Two weeks prior to Martinsville, Logano -- already having secured a spot in the next Chase round thanks to a win a week earlier at Charlotte -- turned a blocking Kenseth with five laps to go in regulation for the win at Kansas. Kenseth, who failed to make it into the next round of the Chase in part because of that Kansas crash, felt Logano teammate Brad Keselowski wrecked him while battling for the lead at Martinsville. So he retaliated against Logano, a wreck the crippled Logano's chances to advance to the championship round of the Chase.

"I'm proud of the way we did things," Logano said in January, adding, "I want to win. There's a trophy."

Kenseth doesn't appear to look back on it with regret, except for misjudging the NASCAR reaction. He felt like Logano, who many drivers felt never showed what they would consider at least a little empathy over wrecking Kenseth, needed to receive a message: If a driver takes someone out of the championship hunt, expect the same to happen in retaliation.

With France calling Logano's move "quintessential NASCAR" for trying to beat someone and keep them out of the Chase, Kenseth has made what some would consider a quintessential NASCAR move of his own.

"The way all the circumstances went and fell, It was something that unfortunately needed to be done," Kenseth said. "Obviously if I knew I was going to get suspended, I'd have figured out how to do it differently and be a little sneakier about it where you didn't get yourself suspended and figured out what you needed to do different there."

NASCAR sat down with the two drivers prior to the 2015 season finale at Homestead and they spoke to each other briefly during the championship week at Las Vegas. They obviously know where each other stand and don't need to hug it out.

"As a driver, you keep your goals in mind," Logano said. "My goal as a race car driver is to win every race I'm in and that is what I keep as priority No. 1."

That seems reasonable. As is the philosophy that NASCAR in some ways is a self-policing sport if a driver violates so-called driver code.

"Everybody is watching that and they'll be like, 'You can run him over and he's not going to do anything,' Kenseth said about the repercussions if he didn't retaliate. "It's kind of a balancing act. You hate to be in that spot. You hate to ever do anything like that. I wish none of it ever happened.

"I wish with 10 to go at Kansas he would have figured out how to pass me without running into me just like Jimmie [Johnson] did to Brad the next week [after Martinsville] at Texas, just like I did to him earlier in the race when I followed him for 15 or 20 laps and he took away my line and finally figured out how to pass him."

Kenseth added that "you can't go back, you just have to put it behind you and move forward" and while he has avoided any confrontations, he can see that his retaliation highlight reel now exists as part of a track advertisement. Whenever Logano and Kenseth get near each other on the track this weekend, those watching likely will wonder whether their feud will continue at Martinsville, the shortest track on the Cup circuit at 0.526 miles in length.

It's a narrow, tight track that some view produces the best in racing. After all, rubbing is racing. Retaliation is celebrated, even if it ends up costing drivers time behind the wheel or a shot at the championship.