It's two days after the fact and people are still buzzing about the latest Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident at Gateway. Just like the Atlanta incident, people are digging in to support their driver with Edwards' fans saying Brad had it coming and of course Brad's fans saying Carl over-reacted.
Is there a middle ground?
Possibly. But who cares? This brewing rivalry - or is it a festering rivalry - is by far the most entertaining thing to happen on the track in NASCAR racing in years. The fact that these two drivers genuinely dislike each other is fine by me.
That's not to say there isn't blame to go around for what happened on the final lap at Gateway.
Brad's dad, former ARCA champion and NCWTS winner Bob Keselowski, had it pegged on ESPN: Carl flipped out. Now, we had the benefit to replays to see what happened with the nudge in turn one and it's fairly plain to see that Brad's car had a wiggle before banging into Carl. That's what happens when you're racing hard, and Carl has done that more times than one could count. I recall him bouncing off the curb in the Truck race at Martinsville so many times in the fall of 2003 that he had to apologize to virtually the entire field after the race. So while Carl was the "victim" in one sense on Saturday night he's not completely innocent; he's moved his fair share of people out of the way either on purpose or just by driving in over his head.
There's no way being moved up the track calls for hooking someone in the right rear down the straightaway. It is a huge over-reaction, and the crash that it caused destroyed not only Brad's car but several others as well including another Roush Fenway car driven by Colin Braun. Now chances are Braun won't go after his pound of flesh, but Shelby Howard sure should. And, undoubtedly, Brad Keselowski should too.
After the Atlanta race when Brad ended up on his roof, the talk of the NASCAR Nation was how the little punk kid had it coming and afterwards the two drivers settled their differences and patched things up. I never bought it. Sure the two smiled and played nice, but there is some genuine angst between the two and how could there not be? They've scraped fenders several times, and while the incidents at Talladega in 2009 and Atlanta in 2010 that left Edwards with a wrecked racecar were as much his fault as Brad's, it's understandable when he wants to exact his payback. But Carl has gone well past the line of paying another driver back.
Brad has raced Carl hard, which is what he was hired to do. If there is contact, make it an eye-for-an-eye. Carl has over-reacted twice now, crashing Brad at Atlanta at the point on the track where the speeds are at their highest. Remember, even if Brad was 100-percent at fault for that Atlanta crash, the contact was made in the center of the corner where speeds are 50 to 60 miles per hour slower. Sure, Carl went up and over at Talladega but that was his fault - he chose to block Brad who at that point as as far down as he could go and already partially alongside Carl. Brad owes Carl for Atlanta, and now he owes him for Gateway.
While Carl is in victory lane celebrating and talking about how that pesky Keselowski needs to learn his lesson once and for all, Brad isn't saying anything other than what he needs to. But somewhere down the line, that debt that Carl has racked up with two huge crashes will come due. It could come as Carl is trying to solidify his position in the Chase. It could come as Carl is trying to take over the Nationwide points lead. It could be both. It could be somewhere farther off into the future, no one except Brad knows.
The chances of Carl just taking it and moving on are slim to none. And that's okay too, because that means this rivalry will carry on well into the future. Just like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. And Allison and Darrell Waltrip. And Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine. The sport has gone without a major rivalry for the better part of this decade and maybe even longer, despite every beat writer trying to force a rivalry upon us every time two drivers scrape the paint of each others' fender somewhere.