Carl Edwards has come to a crossroads in his NASCAR career.
It's time he faced the fact that the dark side is calling, and he needs to answer it.
Last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Edwards was involved in one of the scarier, and most unnecessary, accidents in recent history.
With less than five laps to go in the Kobalt Tools 500, Edwards turned sharply into the left-rear quarter panel of Brad Keselowski's car, sending the No. 12 upside down and roof-first into the outside wall.
What followed was a media firestorm of speculation and accusations.
Edwards was clearly retaliating for an incident earlier in the race when Keselowski nudged Edwards' car up the track and into the No. 20 of Joey Logano, effectively ending Carl's day. Several hours later, Edwards' No. 99 emerged from the garage beaten, bruised, and most importantly, more than 150 laps down.
Edwards then took it upon himself to educate Brad on the Golden Rule of NASCAR: Treat other drivers as you would want to be treated. Keselowski has ruffled many feathers in the garage area in his two-plus years in the sport, and Edwards had had enough.
Was Edwards wrong for what he did? Yes. Did Keselowski having it coming? Probably. Does Edwards have to make a big show of how nice a guy he is and try to win back the media and fans? Absolutely not.
Throughout his brief career, Edwards has tried to come across as the nice guy—the smiling, innocent guy next door. The problem is, he doesn't have to. He would be much better served to embrace the fact that he is a villain in a sport that loves villains.
His history has seen incidents with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Last year, he even got into a physical altercation with Kevin Harvick at Charlotte. Yet Edwards then appears on TV with the puppy dog eyes and the toothy grin and tries to appear like a saint.
It's time that he took a page from Dale Earnhardt Sr. and became the true villain that he was intended to be. Earnhardt was the Intimidator at all times. He pulled no punches and was unafraid to be himself. If he didn't like another driver or was upset with how hard someone raced him, everyone knew about it. Dale Earnhardt was a lot of things, but he was never fake.
That's where Edwards has faltered in his public persona. You can't be a good guy on screen and bad guy off—the audience doesn't buy it.
Fortunately for Carl, the NASCAR audience loves villains. Earnhardt was the most popular driver when he died and is still probably the most popular driver almost a decade after his death. It was his aggressive style and attitude that made fans flock to him.
Most importantly, the Intimidator never apologized.
Edwards should learn from that fact. Be aggressive. Be a bully. Be a bad guy. The fans will eat it up.
There are too many drivers in the sport today that shy away from controversy. The sponsorship money makes them walk on eggshells.
But where has the entertainment gone? Where are the Jimmy Spencers punching people in the infield? Where are the Earnhardts dumping cars on the last lap?
Stewart is the only driver that doesn't seem to care what happens to him. He is the only one that will speak his mind and not worry about the repercussions.
NASCAR needs that. The fans need it. Everyone needs it.
So Carl, stop playing the choirboy role and become the person that NASCAR needs you to be.
It's time the world sees the new Carl Edwards—the pull no punches, take no prisoners Carl Edwards. It's time the world sees the new Intimidator.
A different nickname would be ideal though. There can only be one Intimidator.