As if the 2010 season wasn’t exciting enough, NASCAR’s reaction to the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident last week just triggered a slippery slope. By not suspending or placing a fine on Edwards for his actions in Atlanta, NASCAR has sent the message to the garage that drivers are on their own when it comes to working out problems with each other.
With the season’s next race coming at Bristol Motor Speedway this Sunday, perhaps we’ll see more of the "Have at it, boys" mindset before the weekend is over. Known as the "World’s Fastest Half-Mile," Bristol is a high-banked, half-mile, modern day coliseum. Twice a year 43 drivers strap in for some of the most intense action all season. The racing is tight and the possibility for frustration is essentially assumed. Since its reconfiguration to progressive banking in 2007, multiple grooves in the corners have led to two- and three-wide racing.
Over the course of a 500-mile race at Bristol, tempers are put to the test and at the end of the day one driver is usually ready to smack another upside the head. Dale Earnhardt’s done it. Jeff Gordon’s done it. Rusty Wallace has done it. Heck, Kevin Harvick jumped over Greg Biffle’s car to do it.
Throw in the double-file restarts and the three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish and you have a recipe for disaster.
Rivalries, beating and banging, hard-nosed racing; that is what NASCAR wanted when it announced this "hands off" approach and that is what it has got. Now that Edwards walked away with barely a slap on the wrist, drivers may be less reserved when the chance for retribution is at hand. However, NASCAR president Mike Helton reiterated the sanctioning body is not promoting the type of behavior Edwards showed in Atlanta.
“We’re promoting typical NASCAR driving, side-by-side racing with our type of race cars. And that’s what we talked about back in January,” Helton said.
“A lot of that came from the conversation of NASCAR taking stock of its rules and regulations to back away from the grip we may have on drivers that caused the driver to pull up to a car and say, well, I think I can get around him, but maybe I can’t. And if I hit him, I don’t want to pay the price for what that costs.
“So we were telling the drivers and telling the public that we told the drivers that we were going to back off on that grip we had. But there is a line you can cross. When you cross that line in our opinion, we’re going to get involved with you.”
When pressed on the issue of where that line is drawn, Helton never gave a clear answer, simply saying NASCAR will see it when it sees it.
“There can’t be any clear-cut areas because it’s all open to different interpretation as it goes,” said driver David Reutimann. “It’s complicated, and I would not want to have NASCAR’s job in this deal. But I think they’ve done a good job with this, with the penalties so far, and hopefully everybody can just go on and race and we won’t have issues anymore. That would be great.”
According Reutimann, the self-policing garage is something that happens “fairly regular” on the track but is missed by the fans, members of the media and NASCAR. The 2009 Coca-Cola 600 champion said retaliation for something usually occurs “within a lap or two” of the initial incident, it’s resolved and the drivers move on and possibly discuss it after the race. Reutimann said he felt NASCAR’s ruling on Edwards will do little to change that mindset.
“You know, I don’t think it’s going to open up anything,” Reutimann said. “I just think it’s going to be a situation where – we all need to take pretty good care of each other on the racetrack, and sometimes tempers flare, and sometimes when you get into a guy trying to say, hey, I didn’t appreciate that, it ends up turning into something more.”
Now let’s be honest, just because Edwards was able to walk away with no repercussions from his actions does not mean every driver in the garage is going to change his driving style. The championship is still the ultimate prize for each team in the garage and few would risk attaining that goal to simply get revenge.
While that may be great for the drivers, would it be great for the television ratings and grandstand attendance? Texas Motor Speedway is already attempting to boost ticket sales using the incident. Fox promos each weekend talk about the drivers getting back to old school racing, more rubbing, "the gloves are coming off," etc. The Edwards-Keselowski wreck brought national attention from major media outlets such as NBC Nightly News, Nightline and other non-sports programs. At a time when ratings have been a major source of concern and grandstands appear emptier and emptier, why should NASCAR step in and punish their competitors for doing exactly what they encouraged?
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