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What’s Vexing Vito: NASCAR Fines Carl Edwards – But For What Exactly?

In my Tuesday Voice of Vito column, I opined on the lunacy that has become “Have At It Boys!” following Saturday night’s debacle at Gateway International Raceway – GIR, baby. It is a phrase that has worked its way into NASCAR lexicon and has become as irritating as “Young Gun” was a decade ago. That the new gloves-are-off policy was qualified with, “when somebody crosses the line, we’ll know it,” a preface that held as much weight as another tried and trite phrase, “it is what it is.”

That was until Wednesday when NASCAR announced it would be fining Carl Edwards 60 points and $25,000. Both drivers however will be placed on probation for the rest of the year – interesting considering Brad Keselowski hasn’t really done much of anything to warrant being put on probation.

Perhaps it is Double Top Secret Probation and we just don’t know it yet. Judging by the responses to my article as well as our managing editor Tom Bowles’s, other polls and comments on other racing related shows and sites, about 70% of NASCAR Nation took issue with deliberately wrecking another driver – and not so much as batting an eyelash over it during a victory lane interview. Meanwhile 100 yards behind him, safety crews and EMTs were tending to battered cars and dazed drivers.

What is confusing about this penalty is the one-sidedness of it. Sure it takes two to tango, but then again it also takes two to get mugged. The tit for tat between these two reminds me of Robert De Niro’s line from Casino about Joe Pesci’s character Nicky Santoro.

“You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And if you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep comin’ back and back until one of you is dead.”

To say that is the point we have reached here with Carl and Brad is perhaps a slight exaggeration, but after seeing Keselowski get tagged twice while sitting stationary and broadside on the track at 120 mph, the potential for something very unfortunate and regrettable to materialize was imminent.

NASCAR’s response to fine Edwards 60 points – essentially the points lost by Keselowski from first to his resulting 14th-place finish was to balance out the Nationwide points championship – not necessarily to drive home a point to Edwards. 60 points? To quote Scott Speed at MIS, “Really? Are we really going to do that?” In 1990 Mark Martin was fined only 14 points less than Edwards, and all his team did was honor a technical bulletin regarding mounting of a carburetor spacer plate. In recent years, it was a 25-point fine for a car being 1/8” too low, or not having an unapproved window net latch.

Following past precedent, Robby Gordon nerfed Marcos Ambrose in Montreal in 2007 and was benched for the following week’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono because he didn’t answer a black flag and started whipping donuts after the race because he thought he won. The next year at Daytona he was docked 100 points for having an unapproved front bumper after receiving new Dodge noses for the season.

Edwards launches a guy head on into the wall, taking out two of his teammates as well as putting Shelby Howard and Tayler Malsam in precarious positions (i.e., wasted racecars and head on impacts with Keselowski), and he gets a chump-change-for-him monetary fine and a points adjustment to keep a Nationwide title chase fair?

Is it just me, or does anybody else see the inequity here?

A Nationwide title chase mind you between two Cup drivers – sure it may be the last time a Cup driver contends for a Nationwide title, but come on; if you’re a Cup driver and you win a Nationwide title, does that really get you a lot of press and accolades from the fans? If the Colts beat Notre Dame, how big of a deal would it be?

Some may think I have an axe to grind with Edwards, and that simply isn’t the case. I spoke with him briefly this year at Michigan International Speedway in June, and he seemed like an affable fellow. I was impressed and surprised a bit seeing how he was once the cameras were off and his media session time was completed. He walked over to a couple of reporters who’s question he really wasn’t sure he understood, and apologized if he did not quite get the gist of what they were saying – and stuck around for another 10 minutes speaking with them at length. Coincidentally, it just so happened to be about paybacks and the fallout from the Joey Logano/Kevin Harvick fracas the weekend before at Pocono.

In my article I suggested NASCAR has an emerging (or escalating) credibility problem by not putting it’s foot down and drawing a line in the sand. That invisible line that they said that we would know when it was crossed wasn’t so much breached Saturday night, as was it obliterated with by a 3,400-pound JDAM – Joint Direct Attack Mopar – in the form of Keselowski’s No. 22 Penske Dodge Charger. By trying to maintain the air of drama, unpredictability and Extreme-In-Your-Face-Tough-Guys-Only-Need-Apply-Days-of-Thunder-Was-Actually-Really-Accurate portrayal of what once an organized benevolent dictatorship, NASCAR has failed to display any semblance of leadership, direction, honor code or sense of right and wrong.

To quote my favorite film character Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski – “Am I the only one who cares about the ******* rules?! Has the whole world gone crazy?!!”

In the home offices of Daytona Beach, Fla. and Charlotte, N.C., they very well may have.

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