Will the "Have At It Boys" Philosophy Cost a Driver More Than a Victory?
"He ain't gonna kill my boy!"
Six words that present an endless array of emotions. Brad Keselowski could see the checkered flag. The next thing he saw was a concrete wall. He then felt the t-bone of several cars, never getting to the start/finish line.
The evidence on Carl Edwards' car stuck out like a sore thumb. The crushed fender and flat left-front tire told the story.
The destroyed car of Keselowski told the rest.
Since NASCAR decided to go back to basics and bring back the "have at it boys" mentality, it's had some good and some bad moments.
We as fans love having the drivers be themselves when it comes to incidents on the track. When they were kept in a box, they had to be careful what they said or how they acted. It was as though if they said one word wrong, points would be lost and fines would be posted.
But, it's becoming apparent that the looser rules also have their drawbacks. It's not so much the drivers, but others surrounding them.
Keselowski's father, Bob, was doing exactly what a father would do for his son, looking out for him.
Edwards's actions beg the question, will this philosophy cost a driver more than a race?
I said before the season began that the new green-white-checkered rule could create chaos at times. It certainly has done that. But, this goes beyond the final two lap showdown.
This season, we have seen more controversy, more questionable acts, and more angry drivers than we have seen in years.
It can all be drawn back to this "have at it boys" idea.
Before NASCAR tightened the reins on the drivers, we saw this kind of emotion, especially from two particular drivers. Between 2002 and 2003, Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer had a lot of on-track run ins. They beat fenders, rubbed tires, and even threw the bird at one another.
It all culminated when at Michigan in 2003 when the two rubbed too much and a confrontation happened in the garage. A shouting match ensued, and Busch got a stiff right hand to the face.
Now, that would be considered over the line because a verbal spar is one thing, but assault is different.
Since then, it was as though NASCAR wanted to tighten down on the drivers, and it forced them to keep their emotions in check. Otherwise, it would cost them money and points.
Case in point, Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in 2004.
He gets his fifth win at the track and when asked the importance of it, the real Earnhardt Jr. came out.
"It don't mean shit right now. Daddy's won here 10 times."
Two days later, he loses points, drops positions in the standings, and had to pay a hefty fine.
But, what you saw was not a toned-down version of the popular driver. It was Junior, exactly how he is.
With NASCAR going back to the idea of letting the drivers have the control, it didn't take long to see raw emotion.
Edwards and Keselowski had their first run-in at Atlanta, when Keselowski slid up and accidentally got into Edwards. The No. 99 was hurt, and it meant a trip to the garage. That was merely a racing incident, no controversy there.
Edwards came back out on the track only to spin him out again, and causing the No. 12 to fly into the catch fence—not a good idea. Edwards admitted it was payback, and even I would admit it was a bit over the line.
We all forgot that Busch won that race because we were focused on those two drivers. Sad, but true.
Also, look at the in-team rivalry between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. That has been a story in itself for a majority of the first half of the season.
At Texas, Johnson rode Gordon for the lead even though the No. 24 was the better car. It was as if he wanted the former champ, not to mention car owner, to lay over just because he won four straight titles.
In the end, Gordon wrecked out, Johnson finished second.
One week later, at Talladega, it happened again. Gordon goes for the pass, Johnson shoves him to the apron heading into turn three.
Two corners later, Gordon is in a wreck.
The garage area was buzzing with anticipation, but the quote of the race made every fan, media member, and crew go silent.
"That 48 [car] is testing my patience. It takes a lot to get me angry, and I'm...I'm pissed right now," Gordon said outside his hauler.
However, Saturday night showed what payback and emotion were all about.
Keselowski again runs hard on Edwards, and the two touch. No spin out, nothing major, just a slide up the track and a pass around. The true definition of a "bump and run."
What happened a lap later was not a bump and run.
If Edwards had hit the left-rear corner, just as Keselowski did to him, probably would have been just another racing incident. But, hitting the right-rear corner means wrecking someone. Keselowski's car looked like it went through a wood chipper cause he got hit by two or three cars following the initial contact.
Hard racing...far from it.
Even Keselowski knew what happened was no accident.
"He turned left into me and wrecked me on purpose," Keselowski said. "I gave him the lane, and he still wrecked me.
"I figured out a way to beat him. He wasn't happy with me, so he wrecked me."
It was his father, a former racer himself that made the most of his camera time, as he wanted to protect his son.
"Carl flipped out like he did at Atlanta and tried to kill the kid...He just overreacted so bad," the elder Keselowski said.
"If he wanted to bump Brad, it's one thing. But don't drive him through the inside guardrail. Don't put him in the grandstands at Atlanta. That's asinine."
We are all for the intense racing, and letting the drivers go for it all. But, there's a huge difference between hard racing and taking a driver out.
NASCAR knows that, and they have to be careful. What happens at the local short-tracks on a Saturday night is different than what happens in front of a NASCAR camera. The local racers know each other, and they deal with it differently. Most of the time it's outside the track and they don't want to tear up their equipment.
But, in NASCAR, someone else is handling the bills and the repairs. It doesn't mean you go out each weekend and tear the car up the same way Dennis Anderson tears up his Grave Digger monster truck.
Hopefully the drivers realize they can't just go out and use their cars like a battering ram.
Bob Keselowski said, "He ain't gonna kill my boy." But, one must wonder if down the line, if a driver goes that hard for payback, will those six words be reduced to four?
At some point, will a father, crew chief, or owner look into a camera and say, "He killed my boy?"
Let's hope not.
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