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It was a hot night at Gateway, but no one there, including Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, had any idea how hot it was going to be.
After a stunning altercation in Atlanta, which saw Keselowski on his roof and inches from the fence off the bumper of Carl Edwards, Ford Keselowski and Edwards had seemingly put their differences aside and had raced one another clean and reasonable. There was no reason to think at 6:30 PM that that would change.
Both had decent qualifying runs starting in the top 10. It didn't take Brad long to find his way to the front spot which he would hold five times for 139 laps.
But fate was about to show her hand, and on lap 196 a three-car wreck caused a Red Flag condition which would cause a GWC finish. The front row was Keselowski and Edwards.
Coming to the green flag, neither driver showed a clear advantage. Keselowski pulled ahead of Edwards on the backstretch but got out of shape in turn three, allowing Edwards to pull ahead coming onto the front stretch.
Going into turn one, Edwards was clearly the leader. Keselowski drove in deep into the corner, and the front end of the car broke loose. He slid into the rear quarter panel of Edwards Ford getting him slightly out of shape.
Edwards gathered the AFLAC Ford Fusion back up and again challenged Keselowski for the lead in the second turn. The Discount Tire Dodge nosed ahead in the center of the turn on the inside and took the lead going down the backstretch and held that lead into turn three.
Edwards again pulled even with Keselowski between three and four and took the lead out of four by the numbers on the door. Keselowski dove low and accelerated hard, pulling ahead of Edwards at the quarter mark of the front straight away.
When Keselowski reached the nose with his right rear quarter panel, the night turned into a nightmare for Keselowski and all those behind him.
Edwards turned left into the rear quarter panel, hooking the Discount Tire Dodge into the front stretch wall. The car slammed hard into the wall, bouncing across the track into the front stretch wall and back into the straight away and came to a stop dead in the track.
Shelby Howard hit the nose of the 12 car, slinging it around like a doll by its hair and drug it across the finish line. Also involved in the carnage was the 88 of Steve Arpin the 16 of Colin Braun and the 6 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
In Victory Lane, Carl Edwards stated "I just couldn't let him take the win from me. We had a great restart. My guys built me a great car. We came to the checkered flag, and I hate to see stuff tore up, but we came here to win, and he took it from us there in Turn 1. Just an awesome race. ... I'm sure some of them don't like that win – Brad Keselowski fans and stuff – but man I just couldn't let him take it from me. I had to do what I had to do."
Keselowski's view was slightly different as would be assumed. "He turned left into me and wrecked me on purpose" said Keselowski who finished 14th. "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. Wrecking down the straightaway is never cool whether it's at 200 mph or 120. I'm sorry that's the way it had to end."
The situation become more complicated when Brad's father, obviously upset and rightly so, raged to the TV media. "Brad got into Carl getting out of Turn 1 – racing – they bumped they rubbed typical rubbing-racing deal" said the former NASCAR racer and ARCA Champion. "Carl flipped out like he did at Atlanta and tried to kill the kid. I'm sick and tired of this. I'll get my own damn uniform back on and take care of this. He ain't going to kill my boy.
"He just overreacted so bad. 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."
The hoopla and repercussions of the incident began to reverberate through the grandstands and the air waves immediately. "They" were at it again.
Keselowski's fans said Edwards was trying to kill the young driver fueled not only by the Atlanta incident but Bob Keselowski's statement as well. The Edwards camp said he had it coming he tried to wreck Carl to win.
All of it propelled by the statement that Carl made that he wrecked him to win.
In the mix would come the age of other drivers some 18 years old and new to the series. Initial reports were all drivers were fine. But the next day reports would surface that Steve Arpin required the services of a chiropractor to put his neck back in place from the crash. Jr. Motorsports car was destroyed as was Keselowski's, and 2 Roush cars were severely damaged.
The ball was thrown directly into NASCAR's court. It was time to act.
Something had to be done came the cry from fans and media alike. But this ball was complicated by the edict of "Have at it Boys". How was NASCAR to save face and stop the outcry and the obvious retalitation that would undoubtedly follow?
Edwards was confident that he had done nothing wrong. Keselowski urged his fans to use restraint and respect.
On Wednesday afternoon NASCAR, silent since the incident, made their announcement both drivers would be on probation until 12/31/10 in all NASCAR series. Edwards would lose 60 points, effectively negating the points gain with the win, and he would be fined 25,000 dollars. Roush would be docked 60 car owner points for the frey.
Keselowski's fans were incensed. Brad did nothing wrong. Edwards fans were incensed. He was giving back what he got. Truth is the risk was unacceptable.
The risk to other drivers and other teams equipment was not an acceptable risk for Carl Edwards to take.
For the second time, Carl used his car as a weapon. He was touched in the process of racing and retaliated without concern for the safety of fans or other drivers and teams. His excuse, "he touched me," sounds more like the argument of a five-year-old than it does a professional race car driver.
He took a job, knowing he would be viewed as a role model, and yet he continually conducts himself on the track in a manner that does not promote sportsmanship or championship qualities.
His comments, on the decision of NASCAR, continued that degradation of the sport and it's competitors when he intimated that he can do whatever he needs to do to win, but others can not touch him. Racing is a full-contact sport, and there is no place in it for a "touch me not" with anger issues.
In a sport that grows with it's youthful fans, there is also no place for a role model that pays no concern to the safety and well being of other drivers or the property of others.
What exactly does that teach his young followers? It's ok to hurt someone else as long as you win. As long as you win, it doesn't matter whether you played by the rules or not. The only thing that does matter is the trophy.
Although, I understand Bob Keselowski's response, and my father would have reacted the same way, he should never have made open threats on national TV.
Fact is, Bob Keselowski is a champion in his own right and never really intended to put any driver at risk, including Carl Edwards. Does that mean there wouldn't be and still might not be a physical confrontation? No it doesn't, and maybe that is what is needed. But there is no place in the sport for threats to the safety of other drivers.
There seems to be a rash of fathers who need to let their grown sons fight their own battles. I understand support. I understand concern. I understand anger. But these young men are old enough to strap into a 3600 lb Stock Car and drive at speeds in excess of 150 mph and make split second decisions that effect not only them but 42 other drivers as well.
As a parent, you determined they were mature enough to make those choices and decisions. So let them make them. Let them fight the battles that come with them.
If they are old enough to play, they are old enough to pay the price of admission. And, though no one wants to see them hurt or worse, the fact is until they fight their own fights, without coaching and pushing, they will never be respected as men and champions.
No one knows what Brad's intention was. No one knows whether he truly got loose or if he nudged Edwards out of the way. It has been done and is a common and acceptable practice on short tracks.
Brad's past reputation and acts of aggression, however, are catching up with him. No one is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of his history.
Very much like the boy who cried wolf, Brad's point of view will be tainted for some time because of past incidents. Fair? Maybe not. But it is the risk one takes when they race with their bumper.
The true victims in all of this drama were the other teams that lost and damaged cars. Drivers who paid the price for someone else's bruised ego. Men and women who lost precious time with families putting or attempting to put those cars back together. Owners, some of which are struggling to pay the bills now, have to somewhere find the money to replace or rebuild that car.
Ultimately, the only winners were NASCAR and the media that follows it. Drama sells tickets and t-shirts. That makes money. Feuds boost ratings for TV and radio.
In a market that is struggling, Carl Edwards became a life preserver for at least 3 weeks. Even the spectacle of Indy couldn't compare to the Edwards/Keselowski incident.
Not a single driver wasn't asked his take and opinion during media availability. Sadly, or maybe tellingly, Mr. Edwards didn't have much support.
Congratulations to Kevin Harvick on his truck win at Gateway and Ron Hornaday for his truck win at ORP.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series, thanks for giving us everything you have to give. You are our heroes. Most importantly though, thanks to all the families who share their loved ones with us each and every week so that we can cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams.
You are the true heroes of the sport, and we are forever in your debt.