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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: Reigning in the Recklessness, NASCAR Has Credibility Issues to Fix

The biggest NASCAR story this week is not the upcoming Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but fallout from a Nationwide Series race last week in Missouri.

The reason? Carl “The Enforcer” Edwards wrecked Brad Keselowski. Again.

In a scene that was replayed over and over since March, became the enduring image of “Have at it, Boys!” and used as a promotional tool by Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards has once again intentionally involved Keselowski in a violent, unwarranted late-race wreck.

Entering the first turn of the final lap, Keselowski drove his No. 22 Charger inside of Edwards, and slid up a bit in the middle of the corner, making ever-so-slight contact with Edwards. Keselowski gave Edwards plenty of room exiting the corner, as well as down the backstretch and through the entrance of turn 3. To clear up any characterizations of Keselowski’s slightest-of-contact to the No. 60 car, he did not move him out of the way; Brad got a little loose, slid up the track and barely nipped the rear of the No. 60.

It was not a bump and run. He did not dump him. It was classic flat-track racing between the fastest two cars, battling for the win.

However, exiting turn 4, Edwards turned left sharply, hooked the right rear of Keselowski’s Dodge, and sent him head-on into the frontstretch wall. As Edwards beat Reed Sorenson to the line, Keselowski’s car veered back across the track, coming to rest on the inside of the pit wall, where upon it was struck at a 90-degree angle in the front fender by Shelby Howard, sending it into violent spin, shedding parts and pieces — including pieces of the fuel system — with the back side of the car sheered off by a hapless Tayler Malsam.

Several cars were involved in the wreck, including many of the Nationwide regulars that were competing against a field that included only four Sprint Cup drivers, providing them at least a shot at a decent finish, instead of being relegated to lap traffic or start-and-park status, as they are most weekends.

After wheeling into victory lane, Edwards executed his trademark back flip – which, following the carnage on the front straight that he was solely responsible for, was in poor taste to say the least. Unknown to himself (or anyone else for that matter), was if there were any injured drivers on the track — yet Edwards was celebrating a win earned through ill-gotten gains, with little to no regard for the other drivers and teams who he involved with his vendetta against Keselowski.

His brazen response and first thoughts spoke volumes:

“I just couldn’t let him take the win from me,” Edwards said. “My guys work way too hard for that.”

And the No. 22 guys didn’t? What of the other five cars that became soup cans under the flag stand?

Hooray for Edwards securing companies such as Aflac, Fastenal and Copart.com as Nationwide Series sponsors, but what of the teams that struggle from week to week trying to make the show that is their livelihood? Why are they left to pick up the pieces and foot the bill for a Cup regular with a documented anger-management problem?

While waiting for his son to be checked out and released from the infield care center, Keselowski’s father, Bob, was visibly upset. His voice was trembling, emotions barely contained below the surface.

“Brad got into Carl getting out of turn 1 — racing — they bumped, they rubbed, typical rubbing-racing deal,” Keselowski said. “Carl flipped out like he did at Atlanta and tried to kill the kid. I’m sick and tired of this. I’ll get my own damn uniform back on and take care of this. He ain’t going to kill my boy.”

Had Bob Keselowski followed the “Have at it, Boys!” mantra that lead to Edwards’s actions in March at Atlanta and now Gateway, he would have likely been seen walking towards the winner’s circle with a jack handle in hand. After all, that’s also how they settled things back in the old days.

It is episodes such as these that lend credence to the suggestions that changes may be forthcoming to help limit the involvement of Cup regulars in Nationwide competition. There was a reason why, in years past, Nationwide regulars welcomed the opportunity to compete against the likes of Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte or Jeff Burton – mainly because they didn’t hook them head-first into walls creating track-blocking wreckage, due to a beef from a few months ago.

In the past we’ve seen drivers do foolish things in the heat of the moment. In the case of Edwards, we are now at three instances in four months where he has intentionally wrecked another driver, resulting in a violent accident that could have resulted in broken limbs, fire, or some other mortal outcome. There is a significant difference between dumping somebody on a short track or a road course, and wrecking them either at a 190-mph superspeedway or turning them head-on into the wall in front of the field.

Sure, Edwards can say “I never had any intention of him getting airborne” or “I didn’t mean for him to get t-boned in the door and have his fuel cell ripped out.” Those words, though, will ring as hollow as “I didn’t know it was loaded,” should the unthinkable happen the next time he overreacts.

Edwards has shown no concern for the safety of others anytime he has even perceived to have been wronged – or even contested. At the end of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona three weeks ago, Edwards turned right again as the cars crossed the finish line, deliberately wrecking Kurt Busch, who was then t-boned by Mike Bliss and pushed hundreds of yards down the front straightaway.

Busch’s crime? Trying to side-draft Edwards, and making the slightest of contact with him – for sixth position – using a normal and accepted maneuver in restrictor-plate racing.

Thankfully, Jimmie Johnson didn’t have a similar reaction when Edwards sideswiped by him for his first win in Atlanta in 2005.

What continues to baffle me is how this nonsense all started in the first place; by Edwards repeatedly wrecking himself. At Talladega in 2009 it was the result of him turning down across Keselwoski’s nose in an effort to block him. In Atlanta this past March, it was Edwards who taco’d the roof of Keselowski after sending him airborne. And there was little displayed in the way of regret or reassessing his actions.

This persona of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Ed that has displayed repeatedly in recent years, between the Keselowski incident and the punch-gesture he gave to Matt Kenseth in 2006 in the middle of a television interview, stands in stark contrast to the aw-shucks/golly-gee good-guy that appears in most of the interviews and television commercials. It makes you wonder what is really going upstairs.

If there is a NASCAR competitor that should be referred for a random drug screening, it is Edwards, and not a no-name tire guy on a Nationwide team or the catch can man for a start-and-park Truck Series effort.

These feuds have consequences and NASCAR had best reign in the lunacy before it maims or kills somebody. That isn’t hyperbole or melodrama for the sake of shock value for an internet NASCAR story. Edwards’s consistent disregard for the safety of others, coupled with the lack of concern for the outcome of his actions, has become a liability to the racing series that has much of its credibility invested in him.

NASCAR is in a bit of a bind with this one; do they now finally take control of the situation and exercise their responsibility as a sanctioning body, or do they continue to let the inmate dominate the asylum? Edwards is a spokesman for NASCAR’s Home Tracks program, NASCAR.com and a prominent fixture for the companies who represent him. As if Danica Patrick wasn’t enough of a ratings bump, now allowing its feeder series to devolve into something between Fight Club and Every Which Way But Loose looks beyond desperate to those on the outside looking in, as well as those who have followed and supported the sport for decades.

If there is anything right now that is detrimental to the sport of stock car racing, it is drivers taking things – including the safety of the other competitors and fans – into their own hands. While most of the dustups this year have been innocuous slap fights, soundbites and finger pointing, Edwards has crossed the line on several occasions. And it needs to be addressed.

For a sport that has struggled to sustain credibility with its fanbase the last few years, letting one driver run roughshod through the series and play by his own rules is not going to help.

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