Monday, July 19, 2010

Retaliation: How Far Is NASCAR Willing to Let It Go?

When you feel that someone has done you wrong, you find a way to show them how you feel about it. In NASCAR, that principle of retaliation is an underlying theme. Ask any NASCAR fan, and they can probably tell you of at least one confrontation their favorite driver has had with another due to getting payback for an on-track incident. So, just what caused the big commotion this time around? We’ve all seen drivers intentionally wreck each other before, but it seems that maybe the line was crossed on Saturday night.

On Saturday night, as the action unfolded during the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealer’s 250 at Gateway International Raceway, it was the last lap move for the lead that caused a big stir. Some fans cheered when the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge being driven by Brad Keselowski was wrecked by Carl Edwards in the No. 60 Aflac Ford. Other fans, like me, watched in disbelief. Crews anxiously waited for the smoke to clear to see if their drivers had made it through the melee. Team owners, one in particular I’m sure, couldn’t believe their eyes. I am a fan of both Edwards and Keselowski, and as I watched Edwards take the checkered flag, it almost made me sick.

Edwards blatantly turned Keselowski to take the lead coming off of turn 4, which set off a chain reaction. After Keselowski hit the outside wall, his car came back across the track, and he clipped the back of the No. 16 Ford being driven by Edwards’s teammate Colin Braun, which sent Braun spinning across the start/finish line before hitting the wall hard. Then Keselowski came to a stop next to the inside wall where he was hit by another driver.

My breath caught in my throat as I watched Braun, who is my favorite Nationwide driver, hit the wall. I still couldn’t breathe as the sheet metal flew as more drivers wrecked and Keselowski got nailed by a driver who couldn’t get stopped in time. It was a few seconds after the smoke started to clear that I finally let out the breath I had been holding.

Edwards could have gotten someone injured, or worse, killed, doing what he did. I thank God that all the drivers involved in that last lap crash were okay.

Before you start thinking I am viewing this from one side, let me say that I know Keselowski had gotten into Edwards prior to that, which is what caused Edwards to do what he did. However, I saw nothing wrong with what Keselowski did when taking the lead from Edwards after the white flag flew. He got into Edwards enough just to nudge him up the track. To me, that’s an example of the old “bump and run” right there. Or maybe it was an accidental bump caused by Keselowski’s car getting loose when he tried to pass Edwards on the low side. Either way, I immediately knew Edwards would not be happy with that move and would show Keselowski how he felt about it.

I guess what bothered me the most was that Edwards put Keselowski, as well as other drivers, in harm’s way. As he was being interviewed in Victory Lane, Edwards almost seemed proud of what he’d done.

Did NASCAR really want a driver like that standing in Victory Lane? I was secretly hoping they would penalize Edwards on the spot and say that the win would go to Reed Sorenson who finished 2nd. At least Sorenson didn’t try to wreck anyone to finish toward the front (and he had bigger problems than someone bumping him for position to finish where he did!).

Just how far is NASCAR willing to let Edwards go before they step in and do something? Twice this season Edwards has intentionally wrecked Keselowski. Both times the crashes have been a lot worse than what Edwards thought they would be. But what can he expect when wrecking someone at such high speeds?

I recall Edwards making a comment once that NASCAR was going to let someone get killed before they did something to get the drivers under control during races. It seems those words may ring true if Edwards and Keselowski have any more run-ins.

Then again, maybe the bottom line here is Keselowski himself. There is no denying he has an aggressive driving style. He’s had run-ins with pretty much every driver on the circuit at some point, whether it’s in the Cup or Nationwide series. It’s just how he is. He refuses to let other drivers bully him; he fights back. He’ll push the envelope during races to make passes or claim the lead. It’s a personality trait that just ruffles the feathers of the other drivers. Even the fans seem to dislike that about him too.

It was a little over a year ago that Keselowski wrecked Edwards to win the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. It was a move that put Edwards, other drivers, and fans too, in danger. So, yes, I know Keselowski has wrecked Edwards to get a win. Did I want the win taken from him then, like I wanted it taken from Edwards on Saturday? You bet your bottom dollar I did.

Of course, NASCAR’s “have at it” policy this season has led to some other on-track confrontations among different drivers. With lesser penalties for aggressive driving, I guess we’re all seeing the product of what can happen when NASCAR loosens the reigns just a bit too much.

The last time Edwards outright wrecked Keselowski, he was only put on probation for a few weeks. This time around, will Edwards be penalized for wrecking him again? Honestly, I will be surprised if he isn’t. I feel a penalty is definitely necessary this time. Not penalizing Edwards will be the closest thing to NASCAR directly saying it is okay to wreck another driver for the win with no regards for their safety or the safety of the other drivers.

A thought that crossed my mind after the race was that if it had been a driver other than Keselowski, would Edwards have wrecked them for the win? I say no. To me, it just seems like Edwards has a personal vendetta against Keselowski.

Getting even is okay when it is done within reason. Settling the score on-track is something that always leads to excitement and gives the fans and media alike something to talk about, but it can also be the reason things could one day go terribly wrong.

I’m afraid that this latest incident may cause Keselowski to seek his own revenge against Edwards in a later race. If he does, then Edwards will no doubt retaliate again. My biggest concern is that this rivalry will escalate and one day, either Edwards or Keselowski will indeed take things just a bit too far. Is that something NASCAR really wants to let happen?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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