NASCAR had better be careful what it wishes for
I've now had a couple of days to digest all of the story angles and opinions that came in the aftermath of the Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski controversy following Sunday's Atlanta race that had Keselowski's Dodge taking off like an airplane.
I found myself remembering a wise old saying from yesteryear: "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."
Last January, during the annual media day, NASCAR announced they were going to literally loosen the reins on the drivers. In the midst of lackluster television ratings and empty seats, not necessarily the total fault of the economy, the sanctioning body wanted to rev up their racing environment for their new 2010 season. They wanted Sprint Cup racing to become a contact sport. They wanted to see those intense moments again from the past such as Cale Yarborough versus the Allison brothers, Richard Petty versus David Pearson and they were really looking forward to the return of "The Intimidator" versus whomever was feeling bold enough to get into Dale Earnhardt Sr's way. They were willing to allow the drivers to police themselves.
However I'm positive that, what NASCAR witnessed last Sunday, was not what they had in mind.
In the days that followed NASCAR President Mike Helton used terms like "well past the line" and "unacceptable" while referencing Edwards' poor judgment in the race. Many of us thought NASCAR might be angry enough to throw their book at him. There was speculation regarding a suspension, a fine and a lengthy probation period.
The edict that came down last Tuesday was a three race probation period. The outcry was immediate. The decision was nothing compared to punishments issued for similar offenses within recent years. It was quickly pointed out that crew chiefs have received much worse punishments for their cars failure to pass post race inspections.
Many said this was not a suitable punishment and did not even come close to fitting the crime. It was referred to as the modern day parenting technique known as "someone needs a time out." It was almost like an angry father waving a menacing finger at a child while yelling "cross that line again young man and you're really going to get it."
Get what? What line? Where did the line go? That's another part of this problem. Last January's new philosophy of turning them loose and letting them race moved the proverbial line to a point unknown.
We are all now aware that this incident was born early in the race when the Keselowski and Edwards cars made contact in turn one. Edwards ended up in the wall and the incident also collected a helpless Joey Logano who is yet another victim with the right to be angry.
But, during a post wreck live television interview, Edwards seemed to take that early race incident in his stride. He even seemed gracious about it. But it turned out the damage to the car was worse than first projected. Edwards had over 150 laps to stand in the garage area to think about what happened and in general stew in his own juices.
The game plan was to return to the track in the hopes that late race attrition among other teams would lead to retrieving some of the lost championship points. All Edwards had to do was ride around and stay out of the way of traffic racing for position. We all know now that he had another plan in mind.
The biggest part of this situation lied in the fact that Keselowski's car went airborne following the contact. The wreck was horrific and the fact that the driver walked away uninjured was a true testimony to the safety innovations inside of NASCAR's modern day stock car along with the presence of SAFER barrier retaining walls.
But, what "IF" the car would have remained on the ground and dug up some infield grass as Edwards intended? First off, NASCAR would have smiled and said "racing is rubbing." Old DW would have been in the Fox broadcast booth yelling "boogity boogity boogity." I could even imagine other Sprint Cup drivers pointing a finger at Keselowski while singing a rousing chorus of Aretha Franklin's "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." Keselowski is well known for not being overly concerned about earning the respect of his fellow drivers. "IF" the car would have remained on the ground we would have all proclaimed Edwards a hero and said he served the rookie a summons and hauled him into court.
But that mystical word "IF" really doesn't mean anything here. As my Grandfather used to say: "if a frog had wings he wouldn't have to bump his ass on the ground every time he wanted to make a move."
Here's another interesting question: is anyone besides NASCAR, Keselowski, the media and the fans angry at Edwards today? You can count on it. That would specifically be the group of innocent victims who had to endure the backlash of Edwards' lack of judgment. The group of people who often pay the price for on track retaliation.
That group is certainly led by Keselowski himself. No matter what your opinion is of this brash young driver, no one deserves to be intentionally placed in such a dangerous position.
Anyone standing on the fan side of the safety fence was certainly a victim. Thank God no flying debris sailed into the grandstand.
There is also the matter of some other Sprint Cup drivers who found themselves having to deal with the surprise of a race car in mid flight on the track. Thankfully, this incident was confined to just the two race cars.
Keselowski's team owner, Roger Penske along with team members, are certainly victims here. They will have to endure the expense, time and effort of dealing with a destroyed race car.
Eventual race winner Kurt Busch was also a potential victim here. He was less than three laps from a certain win when this wreck happened. Busch found himself in the frustrating position of having to deal with double overtime restarts and the genuine possibility of losing a race that he dominated much of the day.
Then there's the matter of the teams involved in the multi car accident that followed the first restart effort. First off, there's the clear and present danger the drivers were placed in. There was the matter of losing a solid finish during the final laps of the race. There's also the expense of effort of spending a long week repairing race cars because one driver lost his temper.
In short, race track retaliation is rarely limited to a single angry individual.
Following Tuesday's announcement that Edwards only received a three race probation period there was of course much out cry. This was especially evident with the cultural communication fad known as "Twitter." One of the more observant messages came from Sprint Cup team owner Michael Waltrip who reminded us that "NASCAR can't tell them to take the gloves off one week and then tell them to put them back on a week later." But it was driver Kevin Harvick who came up with one of the better tweats when he announced he was going to ask NASCAR for a refund for all of his previous penalties.
Was NASCAR's call on the Edwards incident too light? Yes, it was. But, in all fairness, it was the only call they could make. They had to back up their January edict of putting the racing back into the hands of the drivers. It will of course get interesting during the next several Sprint Cup races. One saving grace may derive from NASCAR willingness to park a driver if they feel he has gone over the line: where ever the line might be at the moment.
Again, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.
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