There's an old saying about first impressions: you only get to make it once.
When Carl Edwards entered the Sprint Cup Series back in 2005, he was a driver that every fan could root for: down to earth, worked his way up from the local tracks, and didn't have a reputation that proceeded him. But after Sunday's incident in the Kobalt Tools 500, the fans' impressions of Edwards may have changed.
Everyone knows what happened, everyone knows why it happened, and everyone knows what has been said about it.
After it happened though, everyone wanted to know what was next. Many felt that Edwards has abused NASCAR's new "have at it, boys" policy. Some said that Brad Keselowski got what he deserved and that it was no harm, no foul. There were those, including many drivers' wives/girlfriends that reached out via Twitter, that were appalled.
The general sentiment, besides saying they lost respect for him, was that his true colors were showing and that he wasn't the nice guy that TV always portrayed him to be. Something had to be done and a suspension and heavy fine was in order.
Today, NASCAR did neither, instead handing down to Edwards a three race probation that spans through all three of NASCAR's top series: Camping World Truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup Series.
Once the decision was announced, some drivers then took to Twitter to let their followers know their reactions, some agreed, some didn't. The best reaction though, came from Kevin Harvick who said he wanted to ask NASCAR for a refund of all his past penalties, including when he was suspended from a Cup race after an incident he had in the Truck Series.
Edwards' probation will start when the action resumes in two weeks at Bristol Motor Speedway. It's not a more fitting track for Edwards' real punishment to be announced.
Most are certain that Edwards escaped easy today. NASCAR slapped him on the wrist and he'll continue on his merry way. When Edwards arrives in Bristol, it won't be very merry for very long and the reason is quite simple: the fans.
NASCAR has officially spoken and now the fans get their chance.
That's for those that haven't already decided on Edwards' fate, and some have, thanks to popular social networking sites such as aforementioned Twitter and Facebook. In fact, the fans on Facebook have already announced just how they feel about the Missouri native by creating a group called "Carl Edwards is an A**."
But there are those that still don't know what to think or how to feel.
They might still be in shock of what they witnessed on Sunday and thanks to this week being an offweekend for NASCAR compeition, they'll have two weeks to make up their minds. And if the fans that are attending the race in Bristol react in the same way they did to Kurt Busch back in 2003, it won't be pretty.
Busch arrived in Bristol after being involved in a post-race altercation with Jimmy Spencer the week before at Michigan. It's said that after the two made contact on the racetrack, Spencer went up to Busch in the garage and punched him.
Spencer was suspended for the race at Bristol and the fans didn't like it.
For the Saturday night event, they made signs that surrounded the bullring type track that expressed how they felt about Busch and some even declared "Free Jimmy."
The message the fans were sending was simple: NASCAR may have the official say, but NASCAR fans get the most important one. They are the true jury and the ones that drivers really have to answer to.
Ken Squier said it best: "It was Kurt Busch who had to face the decision of the true jury. For a week, NASCAR fans around the country deliberated and their verdict was announced loud and clear in the courtroom of the Bristol Motor Speedway."
Busch was booed... loudly... and a lot.
Now, NASCAR fans find themselves in the same situation heading to the same track. They have two weeks to deliberate on how they feel about Edwards and how they'll view him from here on out.
Will they welcome Edwards with open arms? Will they see a different man TV portrays and shower him with boos? Or will they be so worn out of all the coverage and controversy they just won't care anymore?
The good news for Edwards is that if he follows in the footsteps of Busch from his 2003 Bristol experience, he'll end the weekend in victory lane. That's if he can keep his nose clean and not find himself in anymore unwanted altercations.
Facing NASCAR may have been easy, but now Edwards must face those that aren't always so forgiving and don't always forget.
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