On lap 323 of Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac-sponsored Roush Fenway Ford Fusion, purposely put Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski into the wall, causing him to go airborne onto his roof before landing on all four wheels.
NASCAR should have known beforehand when they made their announcement before the season began that there was already bad blood flowing around the garage area and all that the drivers needed was the green light to proceed with what they call "retaliation."
“This is a contact sport. We want to see drivers mixing it up,” said NASCAR Chairman Brian France.
France also added that, “We want to see the emotion of the world's best drivers just as much as everybody else does, and that is the goal for 2010 and beyond.”
It wasn’t so much France's statement alone, but when Nascar's other powers-that-be added in statements of their own, they should have realized that it wouldn’t take long for one their most silent, yet poignant, drivers to take their words to heart and act on it.
“There's an age old saying that in NASCAR, if you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing,” NASCAR President Mike Helton claimed.
“And I think that's what the NASCAR fan and NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect.”
“We will put it back in the hands of the drivers and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it, and have a good time',” said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton during a preseason press conference.
We already know that using the word "revenge" is a little harsh and that the word "retaliation" might be more appropriate, but in Sunday's instance "revenge" can easily fit the crime.
NASCAR is not the only sport where the victim, as well as the aggressor, sometimes finds fault in each others actions.
We see it in baseball when a pitcher retaliates by throwing what they call a "brush back" pitch which, in all honesty, is meant to send a signal that he was not happy about how the batter reacted to knocking one of his pitches out of the park.
Football also has its own rendition of retaliation, when an opposing defense purposely goes after the quarterback while trying to knock him out of the game because of a post-touchdown celebration.
In NASCAR, it’s unfortunate that retaliation or revenge usually means using a 3500-pound chunk of metal to get their point across, and by the time the driver realizes what they have done, it is too late to go back and take action another way.
Keselowski made that known with this statement from a preseason press conference. When asked about the altercations he has had with Edwards in 2009, he said, "I am not afraid to fight, or afraid of anyone.
“Carl Edwards seems to be a pretty tough guy. But, in my car I weigh 3500 pounds, and with that, I can kick some ass."
These are some pretty rough words; especially when you take into account that the intended purpose of these cars is not to be used as a weapon.
Instead they are used by professional racecar drivers who are trained to handle these vehicles at the high rates of speed in a controlled setting to ensure the safety of not only of the fans, but the drivers themselves.
In the real world, a vehicle is considered a deadly weapon if used for purposes other than to get from point A to point B, which includes purposely wrecking into another vehicle.
Now, bearing in mind that Edwards purposely went after Keselowski after being 156 laps down, you have to wonder how NASCAR will handle this type of situation, especially when Edwards made it clear what his intentions were.
“Brad knows the deal between him and I,” said Edwards after NASCAR parked him for the remainder of the race.
Edwards also added this as he was on his way to the Oval Office: “The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected. I wish it wouldn’t have gone like it did, but I’m glad he’s okay and we’ll just go on and race some more and maybe him and I won’t get in anymore incidents together.”
Sunday's action also brought to mind thoughts of Denny Hamlin, who not too long ago was at the forefront of wanting to “cash in” (as he very modestly put it), when he made good on his threat to return a favor to Keselowski during the season-ending race at Homestead.
"I'm just happy that I signed up for next week's Nationwide race,'' Hamlin said.
"There are a lot of guys that owe him. There are a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they're going to cash in. I'm just going to be the first to the pay window.''
Hamlin kept his word even though NASCAR knew ahead of time what his intentions were from the previous week’s press conference and, just like Edwards, Hamlin spoke about it them after the race.
“My objective today was to try to win the race first, and take care of him second,” Hamlin said. Edwards and Hamlin both had preconceived agendas, and whether they were meant to hurt another driver or not is not the case here.
Instead it’s about putting innocent people at risk whether it is a fellow driver or, more importantly, an innocent fan or bystander.
NASCAR could have sent out a strong statement after the Hamlin incident last season in Homestead, but instead Nationwide Series director Joe Balash assessed Hamlin a one-lap penalty because officials were aware that Hamlin was out for revenge.
Now you have to wonder who is to blame. Is it NASCAR for not stepping in last season and handing down a stiffer penalty, especially after they knew all along what Hamlin’s intentions were? This, in turn, could have possibly made Edwards think twice about his own ramifications.
Or is it Edwards for maybe taking into account that Hamlin was let go with just a slap on the hand and, in the heat of moment, probably figuring that Keselowski would end up spinning into the infield?
Either way it was not very good thinking on Edwards part because no one knows exactly where a car will end up once the driver has lost control, and also because he is supposed to be a professional acting in a professional manner.
Now I’m not saying that what Keselowski has done in the past should just go completely ignored, but when one driver purposely goes after another driver especially at a track that is known for generating the speeds such as Atlanta.
It’s up to the sanctioning body to take the appropriate measures to assure not only the fans who were put in grave danger, but also those around the situation that instances such as this will not be tolerated in the future.
Maybe NASCAR needs to be careful the next time they tell the drivers, “Boys, have at it, and have a good time',” because it was obvious on Sunday that one driver took that statement to heart.
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