The Frontstretch: Carl Edwards' Free Pass From NASCAR Sets Dangerous Precedent by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday March 10, 2010

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Carl Edwards' Free Pass From NASCAR Sets Dangerous Precedent

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday March 10, 2010


I received a call around midday Tuesday from Frontstretch’s Owner and Managing Editor Tom Bowles, asking me to change the topic of this week’s column. Not surprisingly, he requested a reaction piece for the NASCAR penalty issued to Carl Edwards following his lap 323 swipe at Brad Keselowski. You may have seen it by now: it was the crash that sent Keselowski’s Penske Charger inverted and imbedded, roof-first, into the frontstretch wall at Atlanta.

(By the way, it turns out that when you have a wing attached to something traveling the same speed aircraft do when they take off, they really do tend to fly away. But I digress…)

So what would be the price to pay for Edwards, exacting vigilante revenge on a superspeedway while 156 laps down, and after (judging from his post-wreck comments) essentially assuming the blame for the early-race accident that instigated his wrecking the No. 12? Would it be a couple weeks’ suspension? Disqualification from the event? A 150-point fine? Surely, some sort of monetary sacrifice would be in order… right?

Hardly. For sending another driver airborne towards innocent spectators, Carl Edwards received all of three weeks of probation. It was equivalent to a slap on the wrist, in my opinion … with the penalty so incredibly light, that slap could have just as easily been confused with a massage.

Wow. As much as I was at a loss for words, they could have just posted a picture of Edvard Munch’s The Scream for my reaction…

Before we get started, know my feelings on this subject are in no part due towards any ill will or animosity towards Edwards. I have always felt him to be a great ambassador of the sport, supremely talented, and a driver you didn’t have to worry about giving NASCAR a black eye. In this case, however, I feel he has done just that, and NASCAR’s decision to do nothing has not only justified it – it’s set a dangerous precedent going forward.

While wrecks in recent years haven’t led to much more than a finger-pointing match (a la Harvick vs. Montoya at Watkins Glen,) NASCAR set a new precedent by all but ignoring Carl Edwards’ intentional wrecking of Brad Keselowski.

Let me first clear up this misconception that this mess is, in some way, “getting back to our roots” in NASCAR. Yes, drivers have wrecked other drivers many times throughout the past sixty-plus years. Sure, guys would take a shot at each other back in the golden days – but not at 190 mph. Stock car racing also does not have a rich tradition of flipping guys over in retaliation for other incidents on the track – particularly ones in which the driver who is doling out the punishment is, from what video evidence confirms, responsible for causing the initial wreck in the first place. That’s what tracks like North Wilkesboro, Martinsville, the old Richmond Fairgrounds, or the next oval on the schedule – Bristol Motor Speedway – exist for. If you had a grievance, you’d settle it at 100 mph, not at speeds approaching 200 on a superspeedway where somebody – driver or fan – could get seriously injured or killed.

There is also nothing in the storied history of stock car racing that celebrates or rewards intentionally wrecking somebody at speeds nearing the double-century mark. If this is allegedly “getting back to our roots,” then maybe at Bristol in two weeks, all of the cars should be stocked full of some sort of illicit controlled substance, the 250-mile race run through the hills of eastern Tennessee with federal law enforcement in hot pursuit.

(Ehhh … on second thought, maybe that’s a bad example. Because that would be pretty badass. I would totally DV-R that.)

Anyways, what was even more disturbing Sunday is the distinct lack of remorse and utter contempt that Edwards displayed following the incident, as he did not complete his lap after being black-flagged; rather, he turned across the legends track on the frontstretch, then drove backwards up pit road en route to the garage area. During his interviews, he never apologized for his actions, only offering little more than a passing gesture of relief that Keselowski wasn’t ground into kielbasa against the pavement. Later that evening, he posted on his Facebook page the options he felt presented with for dealing with the earlier incident: letting it go, confronting Keselowski after the race, dealing with it in two weeks at Bristol, or taking care of it right then. Well, he sure chose to take care of it all right; and in the process, he put a lot of people’s lives in jeopardy. It’d be one thing if his car was totaled at the hands of the No. 12 to begin with; but remember, Keselowski’s flip was in large part because Edwards pulled into somebody else’s lane a couple hours earlier.

Which, in turn, begs the question… what did Carl Edwards really have to retaliate for?

Going back to Talladega’s near-disaster in April of 2009, it was Edwards who set into action the chain of events that would see him turned backwards, ricocheting off of Ryan Newman’s windshield and flying into the stands – shattering a young girl’s jaw in the process – after driving across the nose of Keselowski’s No. 09 Chevrolet in an attempt to block him from passing as the cars raced towards the checkered flag.

Edwards’ spectacular flight into the catch fence and arrestor cables was shocking indeed, eerily reminiscent of Bobby Allison’s 1987 liftoff at virtually the same spot on the track. Yet the incident that served as the catalyst for Edwards’ retaliation during the Kobalt Tools 500 was the result of much the same action on the part of the No. 99 – driving down from a lane up across the nose of another car. Edwards did not have position on the No. 12 Mopar Dodge, and was not even remotely clear of him before steering down into his path.

As Keselowski said himself, it is not the responsibility of the driver on the inside to yank their car down onto the apron or slam on the brakes to avoid Carl’s aggressive moves early in a race… let alone on a restart. From the replay, Bobby Labonte in the red No. 71 car quickly advances towards the back of Keselowski, showing the driver had lifted in an attempt to give Edwards some space once it was clear he was coming down whether Keselowski liked it or not. It was not a case of the Cup “rookie” driving aggressively that caused the incident – it was Edwards’ blatant disregard for others in his path.

Sadly, it isn’t the first time we could say that about Edwards. Think back to the 2006 Nationwide Race at Michigan International Speedway. In a last lap shootout between Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Robby Gordon, and Edwards, it was the latter who drifted up in front of Earnhardt, Jr., who attempted to lift but made ever so slight contact with the No. 60 of Edwards, sending him spinning. On the cool down lap, Carl went Cole Trickle and slammed into the side of Earnhardt Jr.’s car while he had his hand out the window. Afterward, he confronted him in Victory Lane and grabbed Earnhardt’s firesuit, unhappy with his explanation of that tragic last-lap maneuver. At Charlotte last fall, he got into a garage tussle and choking match with Kevin Harvick after Harvick poked fun of him at Talladega one week earlier.

Behind the smile and the pearly whites, a number of competitors in and out of the Roush Fenway stable have been treated to the ugly, dark, and even violent side of Carl Edwards.

Then there’s perhaps the worst of all: Martinsville, Fall of 2007. Edwards confronted Matt Kenseth prior to a TV interview, grabbing him and walking him backwards before cocking his fist back as if he was going to punch the former champion. Back then, his teammates past and present were taking issue with his wild mood swings, a private matter that suddenly went public after what nearly turned into a five-second sucker punch that day.

“You don’t know what to expect with him,” Kenseth said, a sentiment that was later echoed by teammate Greg Biffle – as well as then-teammate Jamie McMurray. “One minute, he has so much respect for you, and he’s real friendly and everything’s so much fun. The next minute, he wants to kick your butt and he’s swearing at you. It’s a little scary.”

Also in 2007, former Roush Fenway driver Kurt Busch, who won Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500, reiterated those same feelings. “He is ‘The Carl,’” said Busch, who drove for Roush Fenway from 2000-05. “He seems to not be getting along with some of the other drivers that are over there. I’ve seen it all along with him. He’ll give you that flashy smile, but at the same time he’s got something underneath his breath for you. Now it’s just starting to appear.”

That was readily apparent to anybody who tuned in Sunday, seeing him accept partial responsibility for the initial lap 41 incident with Keselowski only to get back out on the track 156 laps later in a Mad Max-fueled moment, taking multiple swipes at Keselowski before landing the knockout blow.

Taking this documented history into account, it appears Carl “The Enforcer” Edwards has had beef with quite a few people within the garage area – both on his own team and beyond. So what is perhaps most disturbing about this punishment and the failure of NASCAR to issue any sort of meaningful disciplinary measures is that it gives the appearance that they have surrendered all control and authority, letting drivers dictate the rules on the track. By most measures, the guards have turned their backs, and the inmates are running the asylum.

Earlier this year, the decree was, “the gloves are off!” with NASCAR taking a less heavy-handed approach when dealing with the competition side of things concerning the drivers and teams. But getting back to the basics of stock car racing and letting the business end of the sport be handled on the track is in danger of taking a back seat to any semblance of order or sanity with this slap of Edwards’ wrist.

Say what you will about Keselowski’s actions in the Nationwide Series, or some incidents with other drivers – letting him flip with no repercussions sets a dangerous precedent going forward. It essentially states that anything goes, and the eye-for-an-eye mantra of retribution will be tolerated, even if it costs a fan an eye, limb, mobility, or their life.

Mind you, that is not hyperbole run amok, or writing something shocking to garner a few hits or a headline. If this “Boys Will Be Boys” mentality is allowed to prevail, something very bad will happen, as there is now a history of little to no consequences being issued for action doled out on the track.

What happened at Atlanta very well could have ended much worse than it did. Had the No. 12 not contacted the SAFER Barrier at the precise angle it struck the pavement, Brad Keselowski’s brain would have been little more than warm applesauce Sunday. Along those lines, it was particularly disturbing during Tuesday’s episode of ESPN’S NASCAR Now to hear columnist Ed Hinton shamelessly brush off any assertion that fans were endangered in anyway by the flight of the StratoCharger since it landed well short of the fence. Um… it would have only taken a slightly different angle for him to have crested that wall, and the fence at Atlanta Motor Speedway is not as robust as the one separating spectators from stock cars in Talladega.

From my vantage point, the impression given here is that NASCAR, so desperate for ratings, publicity, and to reignite interest in the sport, has catered to the lowest common denominator, effectively devaluing the highest level of auto racing in America to WWE status. I guess it is not completely coincidental, seeing as Edwards hosted an episode of the wrestling program Raw a few weeks ago.

But by not issuing any sort of meaningful punishment to Edwards, NASCAR has sacrificed driver protocol, fan safety, and the integrity of competition. The sanctioning body has now not only given their blessing that anything goes on the track; now, they’ve said that the worst a driver can expect by punting somebody airborne is that they’ll simply be “scrutinized” for a few weeks until all is right in the world again.

Back in 2002, Mark Martin was fined 25 points at Rockingham in the midst of a title fight with Tony Stewart for having a spring that was received short from the supplier, a glitch which caused the car to be a smidge low in post-race inspection. Following the fine, Mark made the statement that he felt like he, “had been given the death penalty for shoplifting.” By sentencing Edwards to what amounts to three weeks of being looked at, and presumably, not flipping anybody into the air, NASCAR has given him a high-five for assault and battery.

Contact Vito Pugliese

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Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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03/10/2010 06:47 AM

So, why did Carl choose not to confront Brad in the garage after the race? Wouldn’t a good old fashoned melee in the pits satisfy Nascar’s wish for ‘action’ as much as putting other lives in danger? Yet, he chose to use his car as a weapon. I am impressed neither with Carl or Nascar.

Paul Sparks, Jr.
03/10/2010 08:00 AM

well spoken Vito. Essentially Carl has become Russ Wheeler of nascar. While I don’t think Carl wanted to flip Brad, there are better ways to get retribution.
Also, I would also hope that Nascar changes it attitude too. Where do Hamlin, Edwards and Busch, no more than 5 year veterans, cry about guys leaving you space? That to me repulses me more than anything else.
Nascar, while swallowing the whistle, needs to stop the infantile driver whining.

I agree with the previous poster. When Dale flipped over at Dega and was hit multiple times (and broke his shoulder), I believe the A frame held.

The Penske drivers should play “hit the Aflac duck” this week.

03/10/2010 08:27 AM

slap on the wrist….they were saying this morning on news in atlanta that fans were struck by the flying debris from the wreck sunday. wonder how those folks feel about a slap on the wrist. and it must have flown high cause most of the lower rows of seats at AMS were empty.

the ‘dega incident brad was holding his line…this past weekend, edwards tried once to wreck brad and when he wasn’t successful he tried again, with success.

03/10/2010 08:51 AM

All I can say, is I agree. Carl acts goody, goody on interviews but is otherwise is a whining cry baby and a big bully. I think he does not choose garage fights because he could not win. His muscles are for “show and tell”.
Thanks for not changing, Vito.

Tess Stickles
03/10/2010 09:43 AM

Carl should be penalized for backflips after victories. Somebody should place a cactus on his landing spot while he is in midair. Prick.

03/10/2010 09:51 AM

can anybody say ‘roid rage. At least Mayfield was fun at parties. Let’s face it…this is nascar, not the bataan death march. Take it on the chin and hit the trailer.

03/10/2010 09:57 AM

Quit your crying
You all suck Carls shlong

03/10/2010 10:18 AM

Would it possible to take “Jose’s” comment off? Pretty crud and uncalled for! I am curious as to the majority of the driver’s reactions..mostly thumbs up..but no printed reactions from Stewart, J. Gordon, Johnson, Martin, Earnhardt, and some other big guns. I am wondering are they reacting “thumbs up” cause they really believe it..or do they just want to appear “manly” in this boy’s sport? I guess we won’t know until they are on the receiving end …

Carl D.
03/10/2010 10:25 AM

I’m with Josie. Bump jose’s comment and ban him. So immature.

03/10/2010 10:41 AM

Great article Vito, I have to say I’m glad I gave up my Bristol Tickets, I would hate to think I payed $120 to watch demo derby and a couple hundred laps of caution, for boys to be boys. I paid that money to watch GROWN MEN race.

03/10/2010 11:03 AM

Lets break this isue down .
Because NASCAR said it was going to let drivers be more aggressive on the track , does that really mean anything ? OF COURSE NOT . Its NASCAR folks . The most screwed up sports entity in all the Kingdom . Why would we think we could hold them to their word on this or any ruling . So lets stop using the NASCAR press conference quote as being the gospel .
Carl Edwards obviously has some issues . He reacts very strangely toward other drivers quite often . Nothing new here . In this particular case , he used very poor judgement in his payback . End of story . It doesn’t require a suspension , it doesn’t require a fine , you can’t fix stupid . He knew the possible consequences of his actions ( the NASCAR consequences , not the ensuing debacle he caused by his attemted spinout of Keselowski ) and yet he did it anyway . Even planned it for almost an hour in the garage area . Either the guy is allowed to remain in the sport , or he isn’t . Thats really the question . Fines and suspensions aren’t going to change his way of racing . Hes just gonna have to get smarter .
By the way , under unintended results , this is the reason Stirling Marlin wasn’t fined or suspended following the death of Dale Earnhardt . Same dumb payback response by Marlin , same unintended but far worse result . Fines and suspensions won’t make a driver any smarter .

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/10/2010 11:29 AM

Except for the fact that Sterling Marlin didn’t wreck Earnhardt.

If anything, he got the air taken off his spoiler, and slowed a bit with Marlin right behid him. He bobbled, got it on the apron, and shot up the track head on into the wall. It was kind of ironic that his buddy Rusty Wallace turned his car at the last split second, missing Earnhardt’s bumper by an inch, that would have changed the direction of his car and likely saved his life. Even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has called such claims rediculous.

When it’s your time, it’s your time.

03/10/2010 11:52 AM

This ruling, combined with the new 3x GWC rules, make the sanctioning body’s intentions perfectly clear. Shredded sheet metal and a walk to the ambulance is the last gasp for ratings.

03/10/2010 12:05 PM

What most people do not seem to understand is the fact that Brad went Airborne is something totally separate from Carl’s retaliation. One needs to look back at previous penalties for retaliation to see if it is in line with that. Nascar needs to focus on why cars with all their supposed safety features are flipping with such ease. Had the car not flipped, I doubt there would be so many people so eager to run Edwards out of the sport.

If Brad wants to be inflexible at lap 40 and ruin other drivers days so early in the race so be it. But more and more drivers are going to let him know that there is a time to hold your line and there is a time to use common sense.

03/10/2010 12:30 PM

Vito , we certainly do dissagree about the circumstances of Earnhardts death . I know what i saw , you know what you saw . I saw Marlin being blocked , losing his temper , and trying to push Dale out of the way . Again , unintended results . Sterling certainly had no intention of hurting Dale . I can’t imagine that Dale Jr. would have any particular insight into the crash that killed his father . He watched it on tv just like we all did . His comment was directed at the idea that Sterling intentionally tried to kill Dale ( a thought that some fans had at the time ) , and he’s right , that is a ridiculous idea . Well , no matter .
Drivers get lost in the “ red mist “ from time to time . They just have to choose appropriate times and places to retaliate .

03/10/2010 12:40 PM

1. I guess not all the acting awards were given out this weekend. A Razzie should have gone to Vince McMahon for playing Mike Helton. Or maybe it should have been an Oscar for Mike Helton playing Vince McMahon. What a joke!
2) Slap on the wrist? That was more like a slap on the back for bringing us all this attention.
3)I can’t wait for BK to give Carl a little payback. Isn’t that what NASCAR just said was okay? Remember to do it in the next three race, as Carl is on probation.
4) Intentionally wrecking someone at 190 mph and subjecting fans and employees to death or injury. Can you imagine the lawsuit that NASCAR, the France family and the idiot driver will be involved in? Not to mention the possibility of criminal charges.
5) If your first name is Carl just make sure the last name is Edwards, not Long.

03/10/2010 01:17 PM

Sarah, NO retaliation, no matter what the result, at a 200 mph (the fastest track in Nascar) is acceptable! Besides, the earlier poster pointed out that Brad let up, tried to stay out of Edwards bumper. Edwards was the one who should spend time thinking about how stupid it was to try to make that move that early in the race.

03/10/2010 01:32 PM

Where did I say the retaliation was acceptable. I asked if the penalty for the retaliation was in line with previous penalties for retaliation.

As far as Brad and his attitude, the drivers who are out there on the track with him are saying it. He will either have learned his lesson on Sunday or he didnt. Time will tell.

It will interesting to see the reaction if Brad “holds his line” against the MPD.

03/10/2010 01:33 PM

Vito, excellent article with the most good information I’ve read yet. However, you left out a glaring incident. In 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr was in the thick of the points race (in 3rd at the time, I believe), near the end of the fall Atlanta race, Jr attempted to squeeze up into a hole that suddenly closed up because Edwards (rookie at the time, just like Brad is now) didn’t lift. The accident ended Jr’s chance at a championship. Finishing first would have put him into the points lead. Did Jr get out of the car and say Edwards should have lifted? NO! Did Jr get back in the car and go after Edwards? NO! Did Nascar and any other sports writers comment on how Edwards should show more respect to veterans? NO! Did Jr even remotely blame the accident on Carl? No, he got out of his car and took all the blame.
I just don’t know how Carl can justify any of what he did on Sunday to himself, but he obviously has.

03/10/2010 02:16 PM

From the drivers on the track with him…

“Brad has got to learn that he doesn’t need to prove to the world that he’s a tough guy. He’s made the decision that he’s not going to cut anybody any slack. He’s made the decision that he’s going to race aggressively all the time. Those are the decisions he’s made, and he’s going to have to live with the consequences of that. There’ nothing wrong with giving a little bit, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a little bit. But if you’re going to only take, then you’re going to come out of the short end of the stick more times than not.”

03/10/2010 02:22 PM

Hmmm Edwards/Earnhardt Jr incident 15 laps to go.

Edwards/Keslowski incident 40 laps in.

I seem to remember a little 4-letter word that contributed to ending Juney’s chance at the championship that year.

That said, I feel Edwards shouldve gotten $$$ and points, but suspension, come on get real people.

03/10/2010 02:26 PM

HUH? are we watching the same races carl had lots to retaliate for. half the garage wants to retaliate against that brad.

03/10/2010 03:24 PM

Sarah, I didn’t mean to start an argument with you, but Jr was 1st in points BEFORE he said the 25 pt word and that put him back to third. If he had won at Atlanta (he had a real chance of that) he would have moved BACK into first. At any rate, finishing 3rd would have been MUCH better in the final points than a DNF.

And, as to what the other drivers are saying, I see their point. But, teaching Brad a “lesson” at 190 mph is WAY over the line.

03/10/2010 03:46 PM

Right as rain, Vito. Lets all wait until someone dies and then point more fingers. If Helton can’t see the “line” that was crossed in this race, then NASCAR’s credibility is totally shot.

Jim Allan
03/10/2010 04:45 PM

Something I read elsewhere today opened my eyes. What happen during the hour that Carl climbed out of his car in the garage and was interviewed, saw the replay, and admitted it wasn’t as he thought. During that hour what or who possibly made him decide he needed to, with only a few laps left, go straight out on track, find Brad and crash him. Did his spotter help him track down his target? I think there is more here than meets the eye. But no need to worry, the WE SAY SO sanctioning body, who will likely benefit in more ticket sales and ratings will get to the bottom of it,NOT.

03/10/2010 05:27 PM

I agree with Brian! This is such an obvious case of roid rage! They REALLY need to test idiot carl! One of the main symptoms of roid rage is explosive mood swings! I, for one, hope carl goes into the wall every race this year!

No Spin
03/10/2010 06:24 PM

it just depend on how you wright the column, which crazies come out “ red mist “ I agree or tunnel vision, or brain fade, does any on remember the kindest gentlest driver in the world of NASCAR, must have been Dale Sr.

03/10/2010 08:18 PM

Lots of things to address here, so I’ll just make a few points before I get down to the meat.

No audio from Edward’s radio? Even fans have access to that at the track .. so why didn’t we hear it? Or haven’t heard it since??

Suddenly everyone’s on the bandwagon about the wing – now that NASCAR said they’re removing it this year. But where was the media last year pointing out how dangerous it is when a car get’s reversed? Something made abundantly clear at Talledega last year ..

I hope Edwards’ supporters realize what he’s started … hope you like races run under 90% yellow.

Wrecking someone racing for position is one thing .. 150 laps behind against a top 10 car .. and indirectly causing a dozen other cars to get wrecked .. if you think that’s ok, then you need to take a long hard look in the mirror.

But .. ultimately, this is NASCAR’s fault because of the idiotic ‘Chase’ and the resulting points (aka boredom) racing. A car 150 laps down shouldn’t even be out on the track. Ever.

03/10/2010 09:33 PM

Hey Sara Edwards. The other drivers are pissed because they are points racing babies that cruise for 95% of the race. Now comes this up-start kid who, get this, races for the win the whole race. Damn him and this style of racing. Doesn’t he know he should let other racers in when they want because after all this is a Coca-Cola drinking for the camera, fragile ego parade. I wish all the drivers became “Racers” and raced…what a concept!

03/10/2010 09:40 PM

Excellent Vito, simply excellent.
And Fordfan, I loved #5.

03/10/2010 09:41 PM

Right on Vito!

Don Mei
03/11/2010 03:23 PM

I really dont get the complexity here; to me its pretty simple. If you take somebody out deliberately, you sit out a race… it a second time and you sit out the season. Maybe then we can get back to racing as opposed to motorized roller derby.

03/11/2010 08:06 PM

Right on Don. Especially taking someone out deliberately that many laps down. Maybe different if going for the win at Richmond. And good writing Vito, much better than that Matt guy I am about ready to stop reading his stuff.

When that car was rolling to a stop, I figured Brad was dead, and that alone will make me hate Carl forever. I jumped on his facebook page and posted ‘sorry, I was looking for the “I Hate Carl Edwards Site, my fault’, and then took my name back off the fans list. I am sure very few people will notice because of all the stupid fans posting ‘Go Carl’

How many times could you wreck like that, before you would be hurt? We might as well give the crews crowbars to fight each other and the drivers a revolver with one round in it to play Russian Roulette if we are willing to take these risks for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON!

If Carl was to ever visit my town in an appearance, I would probably end up going there causing trouble (at least verbally) and be drug out in cuffs.

Didn’t Robby Gordon wreck someone or get wrecked as payback at high speed, Atlanta or something? That is the last high speed payback I remember.

When the wrecks started happening at Talladega at the end of the races, I was very happy actually, because the morons have to quit blocking. Now several races have had wrecks because some idiot thinks they are going to block every single lane on a 5 wide track to not get passed. In that case you have it coming. CARL.

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