NASCAR made the right call on Edwards

March, 11, 2010

In the matter of Carl Edwards, NASCAR got it right. Goldilocks right. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. Just right.

A meaningless three-race probation is exactly what the situation called for.

What NASCAR had to do was pull off a delicate public-relations maneuver. Edwards' payback bump of Brad Keselowski needed to be acknowledged, what with the public shrieking and eeking over The Flight of the Red Car across half the TV, computer and iPhone screens in America.

It was one of those sensational NASCAR video moments that get the attention of the news networks from time to time.

But Edwards' offense, by the unwritten code as old as NASCAR itself, was a misdemeanor.

My position has been the same since Sunday when I reviewed the video of when Keselowski went upside down at Atlanta after the nudge from Edwards. What I said Monday, on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" and to ABC News, was precisely what NASCAR president Mike Helton said Tuesday in announcing the formality of a penalty.

Edwards' payback bump of Keselowski was an Edwards issue.

The flight of Keselowski's car was and is a NASCAR issue.

They are separate.

So NASCAR is attending to its own house with regard to the suddenly arisen aerodynamic problem of cars going airborne on intermediate-size tracks, and no longer just the giant restrictor-plate tracks.

Regardless of how the car was launched, with intentional or unintentional contact, the overwhelming issue is to get the cars to stay on the ground. Likely, the return of the spoilers later this month, to replace the misbegotten wings, will resolve the matter.

As for Edwards' probation, anyone who knows NASCAR knows probation is meaningless. But the general public doesn't know -- and they're the ones who needed to be addressed, because when Brad K's car took flight, so did the story, out of control and beyond reason.

So NASCAR publicly acknowledged Edwards' offense, but punished it for what it really was -- as a misdemeanor.

There's no way Edwards, or NASCAR, for that matter, could have predicted that Keselowski's car would go airborne. So there was simply no intent to launch.

Edwards did not cross some line, as has been charged, with regard to NASCAR's licensing of drivers to settle matters among themselves. The flight of Brad K's car made Edwards' action appear to cross some line.

At initial contact, this was routine payback and, under the old code, justifiable payback. And not just because Keselowski had a hand in the wreck of Edwards and Joey Logano earlier in the Atlanta race.

Edwards' grievance was cumulative, and shared by other drivers, dating back to the last Nationwide season, and Keselowski's chronic display of lack of respect for other drivers, and his tendency to crow about it.

"The tougher you race, the more you're rewarded, it seems like," Brad K had said in Victory Lane at Memphis in October after wrecking Edwards and tangling with two other drivers, Justin Allgaier and Mike Bliss.

Wearing that Attitude (with a capital A), Brad K went on to dump Denny Hamlin at Phoenix in November, prompting Hamlin to observe that "there's a lot of guys that owe him."

Keeping his promise, Hamlin spun Keselowski at Homestead-Miami in the Nationwide finale, and that was that.

What Hamlin did to Brad K was what Edwards intended Sunday at Atlanta. Nothing more.

Edwards has caught much heat for retaliating on a high-speed track. Well, Homestead-Miami isn't exactly Martinsville, and there was nothing like this hoopla when Hamlin turned Keselowski at Homestead.

What did surprise me was that Helton denied that NASCAR took into account Keselowski's "body of work," as someone put it, in considering Edwards' penalty.

NASCAR had to see, had to know, that this young driver was as rough as they come -- rougher, maybe, than even the young Dale Earnhardt 30 years ago.

Brad K's peers thought he was getting out of hand, and NASCAR was letting him rip.

NASCAR had told the drivers they could settle things among themselves, and Edwards settled a matter largely on behalf of the garage area as a whole. And NASCAR, much to my surprise, didn't renege on its new policy, even in the face of sensational video.

Good for NASCAR.



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