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 wrong...as 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 TruckSeries.com, 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.