Thursday, March 18, 2010

On media reaction to the Brad K/Carl E incident at Atlanta

One of the long-lasting memories of the Brad Keselowski/Carl Edwards fandango at Atlanta, in addition to Brad's car flying through the air, will be the media's coverage of the incident.

The accident itself was sensational, and the coverage of the wreck was no less sensational. Highlights were shown on national newscasts and carried on websites that normally cover political intrigue not the ins-and-outs of NASCAR drivers and their raging tempers.

I've tried to read as many of the opinion pieces as possible, many from respected journalists and some from unknown bloggers.

Almost all of them have the same content. Although he didn't deserve to end up upside down, Brad did deserve to be wrecked because of his rough nature on the racetrack and the fact that he's pissed off virtually the entire garage area.

Okay, it's one thing to make that statement when you have facts to back it up. But not one single writer has gone into detail to list the drivers Brad has intentionally crashed over the past two years. Not one writer has gone into detail to list any drivers that are mad at Brad for anything that's gone on over the course of the past two years. But trust them, the entire garage area was cheering as the 12 car sailed through the air into turn one at Atlanta.

I want to know: who feels they've been raced unfairly by Brad Keselowski? Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards might have cause to think so, but if they look at their previous incidents with Keselowski objectively they'd see they are as much at fault (if not more so) than Keselowski.

Too often the writers in the media center parrot what each other are saying. If someone on the other side of the room is saying the entire garage area is upset at Brad Keselowski, it's okay for me to use it in my story - regardless of whether or not there has been any fact checking done to verify that even one driver is upset with Brad.

Hamlin's feud with Keselowski is well documented. Brad hasn't done anything to Hamlin, with the exception of dumping him at Phoenix last November. All he has done is not cut him any slack on the track. That has forced Hamlin into driving over his head and making mistakes, and has resulted in wrecked racecars. Keselowski's past with Edwards is well known too: Carl tried to block Brad at Talladega on the last lap and went for a wild ride as a result. Of course, Brad admits to rough-housing at Memphis last year, where Carl was taken out of a chance for the win, and then they had their run in on lap 40 at Atlanta.

So where are all of the references to other incidents with other drivers? Where did Brad rough up Juan Montoya, who used the Atlanta accident to speak out on the number of drivers waiting to offer up their paybacks to Brad for previous run-ins on the track?

I am not from Missouri, but let's pretend I am for the sake of this argument. I challenge the writers who've written about the supposed long line of drivers waiting to exact their revenge on Brad Keselowski to "show me" the names and offer up details of the incidents.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on Edwards vs. Keselowski

I have been scouring the various motorsports web pages for two days trying to find as much info as I can on the entirety of the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski rumble at Atlanta on Sunday. Most of what's out there simply rehashes what we already have seen and know: Carl and Brad got into it on lap 40, and then Carl came back out and sent Brad on a wild ride with three laps to go. Carl, initially contrite after seeing replays of the first incident, apparently got to thinking about things and decided immediate payback was necessary.

There are a lot of things going on here, both throughout the sport as a whole and in my mind. On one hand, I am a big believer in letting drivers police themselves. I think NASCAR has done a good job getting this back into the drivers hands, but I also think there is way more they can do to let the drivers control what goes on on the racetrack. I am also a believer in paybacks in racing; you wreck me, I wreck you. There's nothing wrong with that philosophy - as long as it's applied correctly.

I wrote about two previous instances of retaliation - Scott Speed vs. Ricky Stenhouse at the ARCA race at Toledo in 2008, and Patrick Sheltra vs. Paul Menard at the ARCA race at Toledo in 2009. Speed's takeout of Stenhouse was textbook; Sheltra's attempt at Menard was the textbook definition of how *not* to exact your on-track revenge.

I've never been a racecar driver, so it's hard for me to get inside of Carl's mind on this. His statement is that he's come together with Brad now four times, and in two of those races Brad has gone to victory lane (Talladega, 2009 and Memphis, 2009). Okay, I can see where Carl has a bone to pick after Memphis. But the Talladega incident that sent Carl up and over and into the catch fence and the initial incident at Atlanta were both Carl's fault, at least from from my point of view tucked safely on the couch in the comfort of my family room. Carl blocked Brad at Talladega, and due to NASCAR's rules mandating where the drivers can and can't race, Brad couldn't go lower. At Atlanta, Brad was down on the yellow line in the middle of the corner and Carl came down. It doesn't matter if it was an inch or a foot - that lane was occupied.

So what exactly is the message Carl wants to get across? Don't race me? If you see me anywhere near you, let me have the lane I want and don't try to pass me?

Brad is doing his job, and to this point, has done it pretty well. His job is to drive that racecar to the best of his abilities. Has he ruffled some feathers? Yep, but I think some of that is because he doesn't take the crap that others have dished to him. The deal with Denny Hamlin is one of Hamlin's making. Had Denny not sideswiped Brad in the Nationwide race at Charlotte in 2008, I doubt we'd ever look twice when those two are near each other on the track. But Brad was wronged - again, merely for racing someone hard, not for any meaningful contact between the two - and he set out to let Hamlin and the rest of the NASCAR drivers know he wouldn't be pushed around. Many of the incidents between Keselowski and Hamlin that have resulted in Denny taking a ride were initiated either by Hamlin himself or by Keselowski simply being in Hamlin's head.

The question this leads me to ask is this: does Carl actually think this is over now?

If I was in Keselowski's shoes the answer would be no. Sure, Carl flipped off Brad's front bumper and now Brad flipped off Carl's front bumper. But the two incidents are no where near similar. The Talladega incident was a product of hard racing for the win and an ill-timed block. The Atlanta incident was a product of an ill-tempered driver making a bad decision to payback an incident that was his fault to begin with. From where I sit, Carl didn't have a reason to spin Brad, much less turn him over.

Don't get me a race fan, I like Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski. I've had the pleasure of working with Denny during his initial foray into the Truck Series in 2004. I've been around the Keselowski family since I was 10 years old going to the races with my grandparents. And when I was with, I had the pleasure of working with Carl when he drove for the Mittler Bros. and then eventually with Roush - and I even have one of his "If you're looking for a driver you're looking for me" business cards as a momento of those days.

I don't want Carl to change his style on the track. He's a hard charger, one of only a handful of drivers that I would put that title on in today's NASCAR. Sometimes I wish Carl would calm himself down with the extra-cirricular stuff that goes on around him...the door-to-door congrats he offered Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Michigan a few years back and the fake punch at teammate Matt Kenseth are just a couple of examples. I want to see the Carl that drives in on the outside and squeezes past Jimmie Johnson to win at Atlanta in 2005 or drives in in 20 car lengths too deep at Kansas and rides the wall to try to win, not the Carl that loses his temper and then loses control. The first Carl is exciting and a joy to watch on the track. The second, well, not so much.

I've been surprised at the criticism I've seen about Brad's driving style on message boards and in article comments. He's aggressive and doesn't take any crap. That's a bad thing? Yet people seem to think he wantonly and maliciously goes and crashes people. He's not perfect by any means, but I've yet to see him purposely take someone out without that person first doing something to get on his payback list. Sure, he's made mistakes. But name one driver that hasn't. Even Mr. Four-time Champion Jimmie Johnson has left his share of competitors with crumpled fenders in his wake. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mark Martin all have too. So have Harvick, the Busch brothers, Kasey Kahne, and everyone else who straps in to race on Sunday. It's just part of the game, a big part that provides us all a tremendous amount of excitement.

Where does this lead us? Hopefully NASCAR's lack of a penalty is something that doesn't change if and when this incident flares up again. I can guarantee you that the 12 and the 99 will find each other on the track again sometime soon. Brad never really spoke about the situation with Hamlin, he did all of his talking on the track. I doubt we'll hear him do a lot of talking about this dust-up either. And I don't expect him to go blatantly send Carl on a ride into the wall somewhere either. But, I can say with confidence that the 12 won't be giving the 99 any slack - whether it's in the draft at Talladega or if Carl is trying to squeeze into the bottom groove at Martinsville and Brad is there to fill the hole.

I originally opined that Edwards should be slapped with a heavy points fine. After some deliberation, I think I am okay with what NASCAR did (although, really, what is probation?). That is if, and it's a big if, NASCAR reacts the same way if and when the shoe is on the other foot. It wasn't Edwards' intent to put Keselowski on his roof. There is no way he could have known that would have been the outcome. The severity of the outcome isn't the issue. It's the intent that caused it. All Carl wanted to do was send a message - regardless of whether that message was warranted or not. The message was sent and received, now let's see how NASCAR reacts when that message is returned to sender.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On the finer points of retaliation

For as long as there has been racing with automobiles, there has been one driver upset with another driver. Usually, it's because one has beaten the other, which is as it should be. Sometimes, it's because one driver caused another driver to crash. While there are myriad reasons for what causes a wreck, some crashes are just part of the sport, the result of hard racing for position where an inch is asked for but not given.

That's what happened yesterday at Atlanta on lap 40 when Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski got together in turn one. Keselowski was racing to the inside of Edwards, trying to gain positions on a restart. Edwards, in the middle groove, tried to shut the door on Keselowski's advance. Edwards cut into the low groove that was already occupied by Keselowski's car, washed up the track and slapped into Joey Logano and then the outside wall.

Where does blame lie?

With Keselowski? Brad would have had to dip onto the apron to go any lower. He held his line and didn't slide up the track at all to initiate contact. It's hard to point the finger at Brad for this one.

It's easy to see where Carl is coming from. He unded up on his head at Talladega last year racing against Keselowski. Due to the rules of restrictor-plate racing, Keselowski had to hold his line and not dip below the so-called out-of-bounds line. That's exactly what Brad did, and Carl attempted to throw a block and ended up crashing himself as a result. Edwards also came up on the short end of the stick racing against Keselowski for the win in a Nationwide Series race at Memphis last year. Hard racing for the win sometimes results in bent sheet metal. And, if memory serves, Carl left a trail of bent sheet metal along the way early in his career too.

Retaliation is part of the sport, just as crashing is. It's hard to say you can be crashed and not have the desire to get even. But that relatiation has to be done the proper way. Intentionally crashing someone at the point on the racetrack where the speeds are the highest is a recipe for disaster - although to Carl's credit he did try very hard to crash Keselowski coming out of turn four the lap before. Had Carl made contact coming out of the corner Brad likely would have taken a long slide through the grass, the point made and everyone moves on. As it was, Brad came a few feet from flying into the catchfence roof-first, a situation which is likely to have had dire consequences for the driver and those seated nearby in the grandstands.

So what should the consequences be?

Some, including Brad, have called for a suspension. I initially thought the same way, but as I thought about it, I've changed my mind. Sitting Carl out a week won't change his aggressive ways on the track, and it shouldn't. That's what makes Carl Edwards one of the elite drivers in NASCAR - and truthfully, that's what makes Brad Keselowski a special driver too. Sometimes, when two aggressive drivers come together, sparks fly. Those sparks are a benefit to the race fans.

A monetary fine won't mean a thing to Carl. Today's NASCAR drivers can absorb a million-dollar hit and not feel it. It's a drop in the bucket.

Points should be deducted. More than Carl earned at Atlanta. Not because of his intent - retaliation, after all, is a part of the sport that will never disappear no matter how vanilla the personalities of the sport become. The points should be deducted simply because of the outcome. Sending Brad spinning through the grass off turn four is one thing. Sending him into the catchfence entering turn one (again, the highest speed segment of the track) is another. Taking away points - enough points that his chances to make the Chase are adversely affected - seem to be the only thing that will make any difference in today's points-racing, Championship-heavy environment.

I hope NASCAR doesn't start to go back on the "let 'em race" philosphy due to one on-track incident. Boys will be boys, and only when they cross so far over the line that the line is a faded point off in the horizon should the sanctioning body step in. Otherwise, let them have at it.