Tom Bowles
Wednesday March 10th, 2010

Did something happen in NASCAR? I thought I might have seen a car flip, but I wasn't sure ...

Seriously, the uproar over the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident has you guys up in arms. My email inbox overflowed to the point where it needs its own secretary, so let's not waste any time. Let's get as many of your thoughts out there as possible.

Here's a quick reminder of how to reach me before we get started: or Tweet Me at @NASCARBowles.

OK, so let's start with your reactions to the penalty itself. The general vibe among fans seems to be that a three-race probation was somewhere between "not enough" and "incredibly insulting:"

I think it is pathetic the "slap on the hand" NASCAR gave Carl Edwards. So would it have taken KILLING Keselowski in Sunday's race for officials to have really punished Edwards? NASCAR has the power to keep these drivers from retaliating against each other -- a few real punishments would make a driver think twice before endangering another driver and fans. It is totally NASCAR's fault -- the drivers have been given no incentive not to retaliate. When someone does get killed from the actions of those like Edwards, blood will be on the hands of the NASCAR officials. It is a dangerous enough sport without allowing drivers to INTENTIONALLY try to injure someone else....and as far as you go, Mr. Edwards -- I hope you never win another race and all of your sponsors drop you. Obviously, your mother never taught you that two wrongs don't make a right. -- Judy Spinks

Carl should be arrested and charged for his cowardly attack on a defenseless fellow driver, Brad Keselowski. Is he that gutless and childish that he pulls a stunt like he did over the weekend? I always liked Carl prior to his antics in the most recent race. Not anymore. The only rooting I will be doing when it comes to him now is cheering for and hoping that he is arrested and charged by the Henry County District Attorney's office for what he did and then serve a significant jail term. -- Sincerely and totally disgusted, James Scott, Rochester, NY

I used to like Carl. I don't now. He could have killed Keselowski and some fans. He should be suspended for a year ... I would boo him if I saw him in person. -- MistieIsADollToo

I agree that NASCAR is in a tight spot given the edict passed down this offseason, but I feel it would be justified in at least a one-race suspension, characterizing Edward's actions as "not in the spirit of racing." I'd be agreeable with Edwards' actions had he been in contention for the race, but he had nothing to gain except putting another driver and fans in harm's way. It comes across as plain ol' thuggery, and I liken it to the Marty McSorley/Donald Brashear incident in the NHL a few years back. -- Erik, Apex, NC

These were the best of literally hundreds of emails I got on this subject. Great points here, but I want to make an important distinction: Edwards was NOT attempting to injure Keselowski.

Yes, Edwards wanted to return the favor after getting wrecked out on Lap 40. You can debate whether it was the right thing to do, or if the "eye for an eye" principle should even apply. But when Edwards got back to Kes' bumper with three laps left, he wanted to spin him out ... not injure him. There's a difference.

Just like what Denny Hamlin did at Homestead, the intent was for Keselowski to spin without hitting anything, lose his solid finish and "get paid back" for wrecking what would have been a top-10 effort by Carl at the very least. In both instances, you're hurting the car -- a piece of equipment -- and not physically going after the driver. That leads me to a great point by another reader:

It is apparent that your winless slump in 2009-10 has affected your thinking. To do what you did on Sunday is inexcusable. Also to have NASCAR give you the slap on the wrist it did is laughable. The best medicine for you is every time you are in the top 5 this year, someone takes you out. I wonder what you would expect for a punishment if this had happened to you by a car that was 150 laps down. For the record, I am not a Keselowski fan, either. -- Jeff Lewins

Here's the stat for Edwards that pops out in my mind: in his last 25 Cup starts, he has a total of seven laps-led. Seven. Considering he won nine races in 2008, that has to be eating at him deep inside. Add in that Atlanta's one of his best tracks and he and Keselowski have past history, and I think all the variables were there for Edwards to say, "Enough is enough."

Now, why so small a penalty?

It all comes down to Erik's email above: NASCAR is between the proverbial rock and hard place, trying to desperately shed the label of being the "Boy Who Cried Wolf." At the beginning of the season, NASCAR made it clear drivers would be allowed to self-police on the racetrack. So if it suspends Edwards here, how does that make the organization look?

You can't cherry pick tracks where drivers can retaliate, because as I mentioned in my post-race column, every track carries a certain element of risk. We could see a retaliatory tap at Bristol next Sunday wind up getting a driver seriously hurt -- even though the cars are running 70 miles an hour slower than Atlanta. The bottom line is whether this behavior will be allowed, and for now NASCAR's decided to stick to its guns for once.

There's one other important factor to consider:

Don't let NASCAR blame Carl for their problem. Carl only did what every driver does on every track -- tap someone in front. The fact that the car went flying and upside down is because of the rear wing. NASCAR is the one responsible for the car and the wing. They have seen this happen before and did nothing about it, they are the ones endangering the drivers and fans. -- Anonymous

That's the most important thing I took out of the Edwards-Keselowski fracas: this wing can't come off soon enough. NASCAR President Mike Helton started off his teleconference yesterday by explaining concerns about the No. 12 car getting airborne, and rightfully so. In just the past six months with the CoT we've seen:

-- Ryan Newman endure a devastating end-over-end flip at Talladega in which the roof caved in on his head. He was lucky to walk away unhurt.

-- Joey Logano's car flip wildly at Dover in September -- even though it's a short track with speeds 40-50 miles per hour less than Atlanta.

-- Keselowski go airborne at Atlanta, an intermediate where cars just don't lift up in the air anymore. Said Helton: "The 12 car getting airborne to us is a much more serious topic right now. It's been years since we've seen that."

So much for the new car being safer than the old, huh? I think if Keselowski doesn't flip, we're not talking about this incident because Edwards merely does what he intends to do -- rattle Brad's cage without putting him at risk for injury.

The question now: Where do we go from here? I think that's more for Keselowski to answer than Edwards ... just listen to the fans:

Hey Carl, why did you wait so long to teach Keselowski a lesson? Way to go. Live by the sword, die by the sword. I don't blame you, Buddy. -- Jim Briar, Corbin, KY

Thank you, Carl, for finally getting this straightened out with Brad K. -- Barbara Roll

Keselowski is the dirtiest driver I have seen in a long time. Carl only did what a lot of the other drivers wanted to do. -- Mimicarol

Mimi said it best. Quick: name one driver not associated with Penske Racing who's jumped out to Brad's defense?

Waiting ... still waiting... Ah, here's Juan Pablo Montoya. Maybe he'll support Brad!

"I'm sure a lot of people wanted to pay him back," Montoya said.

Hmm ... what about Scott Speed?

"3 race probation for Edwards! Awesome, I love it!!! I bet Keselowski is scared now," Speed said via his Twitter feed.

And so it goes. Perhaps one of the major lessons Brad has learned from this incident is he doesn't have many driver friends inside the garage, the result of multiple wrecks through the years where he's been at fault. As someone who likes to walk to the beat of his own drummer, Keselowski may not be bothered by that. But Edwards is the second person to stand up to him after multiple incidents involving the two and say, "You're not going to get away with bumping people without getting bumped back."

That leaves Keselowski with a few choices: keep his driving style the way it is (and risk additional retaliation every time he's in a wreck) or alter his style and personality slightly so he's got a little more respect inside the garage area. Will he adjust? Time will tell ... but with Keselowski 33rd in points, you wonder whether Roger Penske will ever accept the status quo.

Why doesn't someone question NASCAR on actions detrimental to stock car racing and how it pertains to racing? Last year, Carl Long got the book thrown at him for Section 12-1, a failed tech inspection in a non-points race that he didn't even race in. Long's penalty: 12 races, 200 driver/owner points? Ridiculous.

Carl Edwards, with 156 laps down, intentionally wrecked Keselowski (and admitted to it!) causing Brad's car to flip violently, crushing the roll cage over the driver's head. Edwards' penalty: three-race probation? Are you serious?

Where's Section 12-1 when you need it? -- Lance Powell, South Hempstead

Interesting point. In NASCAR's defense, it said it was easing penalties for driver aggression, not oversized engines. But that's a pretty big disparity for flipping a guy versus having an old engine be a tick over the size limit only to blow up and take you out of the race on Lap 3 en route to finishing last.

Finally, while this penalty was so much lighter than expected, you'd think no one on Edwards' side would be unhappy. But believe it or not, there's someone who can't believe he even got hit that hard:

Our question for you is: How can NASCAR put him on probation for causing the exact same accident [Keselowski] caused a year ago? I believe it is unfair. They overlook actions by certain drivers based on bias. Another example is when Tony Stewart has retaliated against drivers not giving him room and NASCAR put him on probation as well. I feel if they are going to let boys be boys, then let them be boys. Of course, we also have to look out for the fans in the stands, but that is where NASCAR's safety fence comes in to play. It should be strong enough to stop cars and parts from going into the stands. All of the drivers are professional and would not intentionally hurt anyone. -- Austin and Priscilla Castle

Thanks for the email, A&P (the couple, not the supermarket). Let's not forget that it wasn't just Edwards' intentional hit that got him in trouble; he also sped the wrong way down pit road and put NASCAR officials in harm's way. That is usually grounds for some sort of fine, and I think based on that behavior alone it was impossible for him to get off without some form of probation.

Still, you talk about NASCAR playing favorites. Don't you think their favorite thing to do is place drivers on this imaginary probation? How often have you seen drivers on probation break the rules only to be given "extra probation?" I don't think there's such a thing as a NASCAR parole officer, because I can't remember the last time a violation caused an automatic suspension. Oh yeah, that's because it's never happened.

So whether it's three races or the whole season, don't fret A&P. Even if Carl breaks the rules, it's not like he's heading to the bench anytime soon.

Tweet of the Week: "I'm thinking about asking for a refund for all of my penalties!!!!." -- @KevinHarvick in response to Carl Edwards' three-race probation. Harvick's been penalized multiple times by NASCAR for aggressive driving, including a one-race Cup suspension after intentionally spinning out someone in a lower series in 2002.

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