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NASCAR Crashes: Why Officials Need To Crack Down on Dangerous Driving Now

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford, Michael Waltrip, driver of the #15 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet,  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, and David Reutimann, driver of the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, are involved in anincident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

The "Have At It, Boys" policy seems to be more smoke than fire with drivers for the most part racing relatively clean as they fear paybacks coming at an inopportune time.

The new points system forces consistent strong performance to finish well, but wins also take on more importance when the Chase rolls around and the wild card slots need to be filled.

Trading paint is part of NASCAR history, as is the bump-and-run or that tap from behind that sends a car spinning which are all factors labeled as racing incidents when an accident is the result.

With the simplified points system, drivers will accept a good finish if they are in the top 10 of the points standings rather than risk a wreck to get a win.

As the season rolls along, competition will become more fierce and the battle for a win may include those pent up paybacks and some dangerous moves to gain advantage.

Carl Edwards set the bar for retaliatory moves on the race track when he sent Brad Keselowski flying at Atlanta during a Cup race and again in a Nationwide race at Gateway International Raceway.

After the Nationwide incident with Edwards, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's Vice President of Competition was quoted in an AP article as saying, "We felt like at this time they had stepped over the line of what we would consider to be good aggressive, healthy, hard racing."

The Atlanta incident resulted in Edwards getting a slap on the wrist with a three-race probation. NASCAR had made the ruling to re-enforce their decision to let the drivers police themselves.

NASCAR President Mike Helton said during a conference call, "The clear message, I think, we sent in January (2010) was that we were willing to put more responsibility in the hands of the driver."

Helton added, "But there is a line you can cross, and we'll step in to maintain law and order when we think that line is crossed."

Now those incidents and others were before the implementation of the new points system where a driver can find himself in a hole with just a few bad finishes and recovery will be much more difficult.

Wins are going to become critical for talented drivers who fall in the lower half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.

Chances will be taken, retaliation will come into play for incidents that took place earlier in the season. Once again Edwards is chatting about paybacks, the one he owes Kyle Busch.

After the Bristol race won by Busch, Edwards addressed the issue of not trying to take out the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota when he had a chance, but claims he still has "one in his pocket" for Busch.

Anger management is a problem in society and certainly in sports as well. When tempers overtake common sense in the heat of competition, bad things will result especially on a race track.

NASCAR needs to make it clear that premeditated retaliation and dangerous moves like a bump-drafting in a turn on the high banks cannot be tolerated when it results in a serious accident.

Suspension, extended probation and heavy financial penalties must be addressed by NASCAR now to insure risky on-track behavior won't be a factor later in the season when the points become critical and harder to come by.

NASCAR has set itself up to straddle a fine line between drivers policing themselves and having to be policed.

Certainly the sport can't afford to take a step backwards by not allowing the drivers to "have at it" should they care to do so. Fans want to see the drivers do some bumping and banging.

Trash talking and seeing drivers grab one another by their drivers suit with fists drawn make for great highlight films. Dangerous paybacks on the track fall into another category when driver safety is a stake.

As the racing calendar moves from venue to venue en route to the Chase, drivers seem to realize how paybacks can backfire.

Drivers who contend for wins week after week can't afford to take out someone they must race with at the front of the field because they know any action they take that is damaging to another just might come back to hurt them.

NASCAR must make it clear what will and won't be tolerated with racing actions that may be detrimental to the safety of another driver.

Presently the area is blurred when NASCAR decided to let the drivers "have at it." There is no reason to back down on that policy, but there must be clarity with certain actions that won't be tolerated, especially when a driver publicly announces he intends to implement a payback like Edwards has.

The new points system has changed the way the game is played. So far, there is little evidence of that, but when crunch time rolls around in late summer expect to see a greater ferocity with the competition that is already at an all-time high.

Let's hope NASCAR has a handle on what drivers cannot do while they are policing themselves. It needs to be made clear to the drivers in the top-three series of NASCAR before action in the heat of the moment creates a regrettable situation.

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