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Brad Keselowski speaks frankly about Carl Edwards wreck

One minute Brad Keselowski was headed towards his best finish with Roger Penske's team, the next he was heading towards the wall upside down. His harrowing experience became a national story, leading to three weeks of probation for the driver who caused the mayhem: Carl Edwards. Does Keselowski agree with the punishment? Will he change his driving style in the wake of many drivers claiming he needed to be taught a lesson? Brad answers those questions, describes the scenario in which he thinks Carl would be in jail by now, and discusses his planned retaliation in the fourth installment of his SI.com Driver Diary.

Before the wreck, you were having a good run at Atlanta. Despite smacking the outside wall early, you recovered nicely and seemed on track for a possible top-five finish.

Well, we really struggled most of the weekend, and we were very unhappy with our car. As the weekend progressed, we were in a bit of a panic, so we took some stuff that we learned from [teammate] Kurt [Busch] and applied it to our car. We just kind of started the race out somewhat blind, which was strange... but our car, as the race progressed, took off. That's something I'm very proud of within my team, being able to work together with my teammates and make something happen. As the race progressed, we made our car better and better.

All right, take us through the first wreck with Carl Edwards on Lap 40 that would wind up ruining your day. You're on that restart, on the inside line and have somebody directly behind you. You see Edwards [in the No. 99] move down ... what are you thinking?

As we approached the corner, Carl was to my outside, and he made a maneuver to the middle of the track when I was on the bottom. When he got to the middle, he stopped turning down, and gave me the international signal for "I'm going to run the middle groove through [turns] 1 and 2." Which was fine ... I was planning on running the bottom, and it was going to make things a little tighter than I wanted it to be, but that's all right. He could run the middle and make it work.

But then, as he started to turn down to the very bottom, I had a run on him because the inside line is the shorter distance. So I was gaining ground on him and my momentum was carrying me towards him as he was turning down. As he turned down, I was inside of him by maybe a foot, so as he turned the middle to the top lane, I could see his trajectory... and I lifted.

The problem was, he turned down, and I was still there. It was too quick, and my maneuver to slow it down was not quick enough. I probably could have slowed down quicker, but to do that would have required an extremely aggressive maneuver on my end, which would have probably caused a wreck somewhere else.

So, I really felt boxed in...like there was nothing I could do in the situation. If anything, I was being underaggressive, and the aggressive one in the matter was Carl. I feel bad about the accident, but I also feel like it was not preventable from my end at all. I communicated that to my spotter, told him to apologize, and tell [Carl] I didn't know what else I could do -- which he did, and confirmed that Carl said it was his fault and not to worry about it.

That was obviously backed up by the TV comments later [where Carl took responsibility].

Well, because Carl wasn't up front about how he was feeling ... were you even thinking about it? Did you have any warning or did you expect Carl to come after you?

Nope. The only warning I had was when I caught him, with five laps to go. He swerved at me immediately. At that point, I was challenging for fourth position, so I lost contact with fourth and lost the fifth position because of him. So I thought, "All right, he's trying to make his point that he's not happy, and that's it. That's what he's trying to say." And he's done his damage... he cost me a spot or two. That's his point.

That was somewhat justifiable that he would be mildly upset ... and I can't say I wouldn't do anything differently there. So I wrote it off and attempted to pass him again... and he swerved at me again in an attempt to wreck me off the corner. I saved the car and let him by the next corner, and let him by the whole back straightaway thinking, "Man, that's uncalled for. Maybe I should wreck him going into 3 so I don't have to worry about it."

But as I went down the straightaway, I thought about it and said, "Nah, I can't be doing that. He's just angry. He's smart enough to know you don't need to be wrecking people going this fast."

So I passed him in turns 3 and 4... and he drove right underneath me and wrecked me in the fastest part of the racetrack, down the front straightaway. It's ironic, because it's what I chose to never do to him out of respect for him. So the anger or disappointment I feel is somewhat at myself for being too nice.

Were you surprised he was able to keep up with you, being so damaged?

No, because the discrepancy in tires at a place like Atlanta more than makes up for the damage. And he had just pulled off pit road with new tires.

What was it like to be launched up in the air?

My first thought, as always when I'm in any kind of accident, is how am I going to save this? Because I never believe that I can't save my car. I'm not willing to give up on it. And I made a move to get on the throttle, to accelerate the car downward down the race track to get from the outer lane to the dogleg, where I would have room to spin without making contact.

When I did that, the engine revved up extremely quick -- quicker than it should have. So I was kind of like, "Huh? What does that mean?" And the next thing I knew, I was pointed at the ground. At that point, I knew off my trajectory I was going to hit the fence in the dogleg, probably rear end first.

So I closed my eyes, because there's probably nothing I could do at that point. I hit really hard and as I was landing I felt the car land back on its wheels. I opened my eyes and I was pointed straight towards Turn 1. I looked up in my mirror, grabbed back hold of the steering wheel, saw that there were cars coming and did everything I could to minimize my next impact and to make sure I did what I could to keep other drivers from hitting me as I was coming back across the race track. That was pretty much my moment.

At what point did you look up at the roof and see just how far the driver's side caved in? Was that a scary moment for you?

Probably at the point where I came to a stop and I saw there weren't any other cars about to hit me. You know, I think there's a lot to be said for the CoT car and safety, but there are things we can learn from this to make it better. Getting out of the car was not a lot of fun.

Describe the emotions as you were getting out. Here you are -- with the best run of your career with Penske -- and all of a sudden a guy 156 laps down puts you on your roof.

The biggest thing going through my mind is, "Man, this is not a cool thing to do." I was angry at myself for not just wrecking him down the straightaway and doing to him what he did to me. I thought to myself, "Well, apparently honor is out the window." So then I was kind of curious to see the replay of the lap 40 wreck to make sure that my version of events was right and that he didn't have something to be legitimately upset about.

Once I saw that, I felt better, and you move on pretty quickly -- or at least I do, because it's important to move on. You're not going to be successful in this sport when you're thinking about the moment before. You've got to think for the next moment. Not that this makes it all better, but it sure did make me feel good to know that we ran as well as we did.

Okay, let's stop here for a second. Millions of casual fans, when they think of you, they think of the flip you caused Carl last year at Talladega, or maybe last November at Homestead, where you got spun out by Denny Hamlin down the straightaway. What makes each situation different, and Carl's situation the most severe in your eyes?

The only similarity between Talladega and Atlanta was the end result of the car going airborne. Anything other than that is not even the same race, so to speak. What makes Talladega and Atlanta different is intent. At Talladega, we were racing hard for position [for the win] and we both didn't give an inch. Nobody intended to wreck the other guy. I didn't intend to wreck Carl, and if the roles were reversed, I don't think he would have intended to wreck me.

It was just the way it worked out. Even though it was a brutal hit, and I really felt bad for him as the moment was unraveling, there was, in my mind, nothing I could do to prevent it without being forced down below the yellow line. Which was Carl's decision ... So in my mind, I was in a box and that was just it. But there was no box for Carl at Atlanta, and if there was, it was a box he made and put himself in. So that makes a big difference in my mind.

As far as Denny at Homestead, to be honest, the more time I had to think about it, the better I feel about that situation. I felt like I went over the line at Phoenix. It seemed to be an eye-for-an-eye, and he had a right to be angry and do what he did. There was a big difference in speed -- 140 miles an hour versus 65 at Phoenix -- but I can still understand his movement because what I'd done to him at Phoenix was not a cool thing to do.

The difference between Denny and Atlanta is, quite honestly, this was Carl's fault. When there are two parties involved in a racing incident, there's almost always blame to be shared between the two. It's just a question of how much. Whether it was 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent depends how you look at racing ... but I certainly didn't carry the majority of the blame, so I didn't think it was nearly similar to the other incidents.

There's supposedly an unwritten code amongst drivers not to spin guys on the straightaway. Were you surprised someone was trying to break that code on the front stretch?

It's worrisome for me and the sport in general. I don't think that's what the sport needs. I agree that it needs action, but it does not need intentional wrecking. That's not action. That's wrestling.

True, unpredictable action is what makes the race exciting. Unpremeditated stuff; when you're racing side-by-side, the guy slips up, then makes contact. Accidents happen ... that's racing, what our true fans really enjoy, what our hardcore fans enjoy, and what will keep the sport successful and popular.

But intentional wrecking is like school bus figure-eight racing. It'll get the big crowd, but it won't last. It's not sustainable. That's not going to work to keep the sport at the top level it's trying to be at. And eventually, the end consequences will be either a fatality and/or the involvement of the law or the judicial system.

Let me ask you a Devil's Advocate question here. People have said if you want to "pay someone back," pay them back at a short track -- where the speeds are lower. But can't you seriously injure someone no matter how you pay them back?

There's always risk, and there's different ways. The perfect example of that would be Greg Biffle andwhat he did to Joey Logano at the Nationwide Series race at California last year. All he did was brush him up against the wall. Didn't ruin the guys' day. He came back and won the race, but he got his message across.

At Atlanta, Carl did get revenge on me the first attempt he made to wreck me, because I lost contact and a few positions. That's revenge -- that's payback right there. But that wasn't enough for him. He felt justified for more than that.

Let's just say there's different ways of payback to where you don't ever have to do what Carl did to send your message across. There's no reason, ever, to do what he did. And I'm not saying that just because it was me. I'm saying that because that's the truth. There are so many other ways to do things that don't endanger the other drivers, the fans, or the credibility of the sport.

Have you been able to put yourself in his shoes?

Oh, absolutely... as soon as I got out of the car and saw that video. That's why I wanted to see the video of the first wreck, because I wanted to put myself in his shoes. To truly understand why he was angry ... and when I did, I found absolutely no justification for it.

I've been spending a lot of time with my dad lately, and my dad is one of those guys that's the first person to criticize me. So I saw him last night when I got back from testing in Texas and he tells me, "You know, don't take this the wrong way, but I really didn't have any problem with Carl wrecking you." And I'm like, "OK, thanks, Dad. I appreciate that."

And he said, "No. What I'm trying to say is, intentional wrecking, sometimes it has a place. But what I really had a problem with is that you really didn't do anything to deserve to be intentionally wrecked." At that point, it was kind of like a validation in my mind, if my dad can look me square in the eye and say that ... I know it's true. Because he will call a spade a spade. And he's like, "You didn't even do anything wrong in the first wreck for him to be mad at you, period."

On Sunday, you were very outspoken that Carl needed to be suspended one race, but a few days later you came out supporting NASCAR's stance in an official statement. What made you change your mind?

Well, it's important not to cut down the sport. The fact that NASCAR chose the consequences that they did is their right, and I support them in their decision. They have to have support for this sport to be successful, and that's what made me change my mind.

It's almost like you have a debate on Capitol Hill over a bill. It may not go your way, but in the end you're going to support the decision. That's a perfect way of putting it. You're not going to say, "Well, I'm moving out of this country and to Canada." You're not going to get everything you want all the time.

When you were in Texas the past couple of days, debate about this wreck just took off. Were you at least a little surprised at how this became a national story?

I didn't have any expectations, to be honest. I didn't think to myself, "Well, I better make the highlight reels for that one!" But I can understand the public's curiosity over the fact that I don't think anybody outside of racing sees it the way the racing circle itself sees it as just another incident. I think other people look at it and see something that is flat out against the law. It's an intentional act that, quite honestly, if the judicial system wanted to get involved, could probably prosecute. You look at similar instances in other sports, such as hockey or in football where we've seen the play end and someone does something to injure another player. And we've seen those people be penalized. In hockey, I think we've seen a guy who's cross-checked somebody out of nowhere, injured them, and had to go through the court system for it.

Those aren't just acts of sport. Those are criminal acts. So I can see how it can go bad for the sport. I've also heard it both ways. I've heard the story of, "Well, if Brad's car hadn't gone airborne, we wouldn't even be talking about it." And the bottom line is it did go airborne and that's why we are talking about it. But let's carry that the other direction. What if I went through the catchfence and killed three people? Or 20 people, or one person...who cares what the number is? Not only would we have 10,000 safety guidelines, I think Carl would be in jail right now. And I'm not just talking about being hurt as a driver. I'm talking about someone in the stands. For a fan in the stands, let's say there was a 3-year-old or 8-year-old kid that got hurt. He didn't sign up for that.

I know you're not out there to make friends. But Juan Pablo Montoya said after your wreck that there were a lot of drivers that would have loved to pay you back. How do you feel about that, or do you even feel anything about the fact there have been a lot of drivers that have taken this opportunity to say you needed to be taught a lesson? Does that motivate you, bother you? How are you going to change from this incident?

Most drivers that have said things like that have some kind of hidden motivation, so I really don't put a lot of thought into it. Some of them, like Juan, just like to hear themselves talk and get on TV. Whether or not they say anything that's credible is not a concern. He wants attention. So I don't really put a lot of weight into what those drivers say because I don't think there's a lot of credibility there.

Then there are some drivers who play it as a game, where they're trying to tear your house down to make their house stronger. Which means if they can distract you or discredit you and get you thinking about things you shouldn't be worried about, hopefully you won't be worrying about things you should be worrying about, which is making your cars faster and working with your team.

Do you feel like you need to change?

Heck, no. I think the exact opposite. I think it's important ...when I sit down and talk to Carl, and I'm sure he's probably going to read this or someone will read it to him or whatever, I'm going to tell him the basics are that I plan on retaliating against him. But my retaliation against him is to do absolutely nothing differently. What that means is, to go out and to wreck him is just vindication for what he's done. It's vindication for everything he's done that has attracted all this negativity. It just completely erases that, and shows a distraction on my end instead of the main focus of going out there and winning races. If I'm worried about wrecking Carl Edwards, I'm not worried about winning the race.

At the same time, to buckle and say, "You know what, I'm not going to race as aggressively the next five races" is to let his bullying work. What he did was a bully maneuver, because at the end of the day what I did at Atlanta was not wrong. It's a bully maneuver for him to be able to beat his chest and say, "Hey, I got wrecked at Atlanta. I paid him back! That kid's going to learn a lesson."

So I won't let that change me. Look, Carl Edwards made a gutsy move. I'll give him credit for that. He risked his own career, his team's equipment, his team's morale, his complete fan base, his credibility ... so many things, all out of retaliation against me. That's a hell of a risk. So the best way for me to retaliate against his retaliation is to show that everything he risked gained him nothing. Because the mere fact I lost 20 or whatever spots I lost, doesn't do anything for him. He gets nothing out of it, his team gets nothing. They might get a chuckle or a laugh, but that's not going to make their sponsors happy. They're not going to get a championship ring, they're not going to get a trophy. So he risked all those things for a cheap thrill that might last one or two days. And race car drivers -- they figure that out pretty quickly. They figure out what they've gained and what they've lost. And by showing that he's gained nothing, because I'm not going to race any differently, the message will come across to him and others that wrecking me intentionally won't work. They're risking a lot with very little-to-no reward.

So, it's very important to me that I make no change at all. That's my plan going forward. If the same move happened tomorrow, if we ran Texas next week and he restarts on the outside of me, I'm not going to do anything differently.

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