NASCAR drew the proverbial line in the sand yesterday that separates “boys being boys” from “boys behaving badly.” Its Wednesday afternoon ruling brought a head to four days of speculation, commentary and outcry from a fanbase and a racing media that increasingly seems to tell NASCAR that it doesn’t like what it sees, and will only know what it likes when it sees it.
Following a near-decade of NASCAR clamping down tighter and tighter on competitors for on-track altercations, it opened the floodgates in January with the now-infamous “Boys, have at it” edict. While many of the drivers have taken advantage of their new-found freedoms, two — Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski — have taken the policy and made an art form out of it.
I won’t document the duo’s turbulent on-track history, because those reading this column are well aware, as I’ll highlight by including your opinions below. But NASCAR’s penalties on Wednesday may cool their jets a bit. And at this point, that’s probably not a bad idea.
Edwards was penalized 60 driver points, $25,000 and placed on probation in all three touring series for the remainder of the season for hooking Keselowski into the front straightaway wall on the final lap at Gateway International Raceway. In turn, Keselowski was also placed on probation for the rest of the season across NASCAR’s three touring series for rubbing Edwards in turn 1 earlier in the lap. (And just to feed the “NASCAR Hates Jack Roush” conspiracy crowd, it took 60 owner points from the No. 60 team.)
“You can still step over the line,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s VP of Competition, told Sirius XM Radio. “[But] you can’t be wrecking each other this way.”
In other words, intentional wrecking of another competitor done with malice is where the line has been drawn — a line that previously did not exist; or did, but no one outside of a Daytona Beach office building knew where it was. And judging by the emails I received for this column — all of which were delivered pre-penalty and overwhelmingly anti-Edwards — a cross-section of NASCAR fans on the street agree with Pemberton:
I think they should park Edwards, at least for one race, before he kills someone or someone kills him. Maybe he could take some lessons in driving while he was off. Like how to do a bump and run, how to not send cars sailing thru the air upside down, how to not block cars racing full speed ahead near the finish line (‘Dega) or how not to hang back and not race in a restrictor [plate] race up to the crowd, wreck your teammates and half the other cars in the race (fall race). How not to leave notes in airplanes, how not to enter others’ space and threaten to hit them and land on their hoods, and how not to threaten a teammate. (Matt Kenseth). This guy sure needs something done to him or for him. — Sharon Jones
NASCAR wants to tweak the Nationwide Series next year? Here’s an idea: Ban Edwards and Keselowski from running in it. That keeps other NNS teams from getting caught up in their petty and reckless disputes and hands them a penalty all at the same time. — Damien Clarke, Arkansas
I’m for the “boys having at it,” but Edwards stepped over the line at Gateway. Of course NASCAR will let it go on, but this time he needs a kick in the pants and it’s obvious Brad’s kicks aren’t dong the job. Dale Earnhardt said it best at North Wilkesboro back in the day: “They should fine the son of a bitch and make him sit out the rest of the year.” Edwards doesn’t have any business in the Nationwide Series anyway. — Bob Newton, South Carolina
Matt, I’m confused why fans and media are up in arms over Edwards wrecking Kes at Gateway. NA$CAR told the drivers to have at it and that’s what they’re doing. Edwards got a slap on the wrist at Atlanta and what happened at Gateway was no different. In fact, at Atlanta he didn’t keep Brad from winning the race. It’s hypocritical for NA$CAR to do anything different this time. Edwards got a probation earlier. Give him another three races and be done with it! — Jerry C., Antioch, Tenn.
Matt, the racing has been great this year and I think that doesn’t get said enough. I’m a fan of the changes NASCAR made with double-file restarts and green white checkers and “have at it boys,” but there comes a time when some semblance of order must be restored. That time came on Saturday when Carl wrecked Brad again. Turning hard left and hooking a guy into the fence ain’t good hard racing, it’s dirty driving. Carl made his point at Atlanta and escaped when a scary wreck turned out to not be a fatal wreck and he got a second pass at Gateway. Allowing him to use his car as a weapon is not in the spirit of “have at it boys,” it’s indefensible driving. I doubt NASCAR will do anything to Carl because they are getting what they wanted, but somewhere down the road these incidents we see as entertaining are going to take a deadly turn. I admit I don’t want NASCAR to reverse its stance, but sometimes a little water on the fire doesn’t hurt. There are limits to everything. Thanks. — Ann Bellew
These responses, a sampling of what I received this week, were indicative of the whole. In each one — even Jerry’s, which leaned closer to doing nothing than any other in my inbox — a penalty was suggested. And the final one, written by Ann, was especially well asserted and the one I felt best surmised the dozen or so emails I received.
Unbeknownst to her, the point she made closely reflected the one Pemberton made yesterday, that sometimes stepping over the line and giving the crowd a good show is one thing, but intentional wrecking is something else altogether. And as much as I’ve been an advocate of letting the boys settle things on-track, feeling free to swap a little paint when necessary, they should remember that, in extreme cases, NASCAR’s hand is forced into action.
Saturday’s was an extreme case, not because the end result was a violent wreck — that can happen even in unintentional situations — but because of the blatant actions and total disregard shown on the part of Edwards.
Yeah, rubbin’ is racin’, but wreckin’ ain’t.