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.

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