“He didn’t hit you; he rubbed you. And rubbin’, son, is racin.” –Robert Duvall as Harry Hogge in the movie Days of Thunder
Rubbin’, son, has been a part of racin’ since, oh, probably the first race. A properly timed rub, in the form of a move called the bump-and-run, has been a method of passing, usually for the race lead if not the win itself for many years. It can make the final laps of a close race, especially at a short track, doubly exciting for spectators and racers alike. It involves getting under the car in front in the corner and touching him just enough to move him up the track. If done right, the way Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson moved one another in the closing laps at Loudon in June, the bump-and-run isn’t a dirty move because it does not wreck the car on the outside. Many a thrilling finish has come from the bump-and-run, and NASCAR has historically seen it for what it is-hard, clean racing for the win.
A couple of notes about the bump-and-run here: As I said before, a correctly executed bump-and-run does nothing more than loosen up the car on the outside-it does not wreck that car. Ever. The similarly named “dump and run” crosses the line and is no longer a clean move-it has no place on the race track. Bump-and-run moves never cross that line. And a bump-and-run never ever begins with a hit to the outside quarterpanel of a racecar.
Which brings us to last Saturday night. On the last lap of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250, Brad Keselowski made a textbook-perfect bump-and-run move on Carl Edwards going into turn 1 on the final lap, racing for the win. Though Keselowski denies that it was even a bump-and-run attempt, claiming he simply got loose, it was a move that made you hold your breath while watching, and probably made Edwards say a few choice words. But it was a move as old as racing itelf. Intentional or not, it was hard racing, and it was clean. And because it was made in turn 1, Edwards had every chance to make the move back (again, look at Busch and Johnson to see how it’s done right!) and win the race.
But he didn’t. Edwards drove down the track into Keselowski’s right-rear (outside) quarterpanel and turned him head on into the wall. Keselowski, predictably, shot across the track, in front of the entire field, taking a second hard hit on the inside retaining wall and then being viciously t-boned by an oncoming Shelby Howard. The resulting multi-car crash took out several Nationwide-only teams, destroying their racecars. It seems as though “rubbin’ is racin’” is lost on Edwards, at least when he’s the one on the receiving end. A driver who can’t take that part of stock car racing might be better off in the IRL, where rubbing is wrecking and drivers make a concerted effort not to do that.
Edwards went to victory lane, where he commented that he couldn’t have let Keselowski take something that was “his” (feeling entitled much, Carl?) and he “had” to wreck him to “teach him a lesson.” There was no acknowledgment whatsoever that he had also destroyed several other cars with whose drivers he had no beef, no apology to those car owners, some of whom run on less than a fifth of his own budget.
NASCAR should have taken the win. But they did not, instead opting to take 60 points (approximately the number Edwards had made on Keselowski), $25,000 (not nearly enough to pay for each of the real Nationwide cars he wrecked), and probation through the end of the year. In effect, it was a slap on the wrist for Edwards, who can go right back to racing that way at Daytona. But at least it was something. NASCAR allowing drivers to police themselves for on-track incidents is a far cry from wreckers for checkers, which is not acceptable, and is exactly what happened on Saturday.
But NASCAR didn’t stop there. They also placed Keselowski on probation through the end of the year. For a correctly executed and clean bump-and-run move. Either that means the bump-and-run is no longer acceptable in any circumstance, or they put Keselowski on probation for nothing, for the sole reason of making sure he doesn’t retaliate. Either way, that’s just wrong.
If it’s the first, I sincerely hope that NASCAR will now place on probation every driver who makes a clean bump-and-run move. Imagine the fan backlash if cars can’t touch anywhere on track-that would take away a time-honored gentlemen’s agreement between real racers who know that the bump-and-run is part of the game.
If it’s the second, as the Edwards camp believes it is, shame on NASCAR for setting that precedent-will they now place every driver who gets wronged on probation as a preventative measure? Sure, payback in this one has Chase implications-Edwards’s points standing is shaky enough that should Keselowski decide to “police himself” at Richmond, he could take Edwards out of the Chase entirely.
But that was the bed NASCAR made with their “Boys, have at it!” edict, and to not lie in it now seems a bit hypocritical when it comes about in this manner-punishing a driver for something he hasn’t even done yet. As much as I disagree with allowing rough driving in any circumstance, I can see that putting Keselowski on probation for not doing anything is just plain wrong. That’s like keeping a kid after school because the teacher thinks he might do something worthy of punishment at some point in the future.
And by the account of at least one other driver in the field that night, Keselowski wasn’t even the initial aggressor. Kevin Harvick described an earlier event in an interview. “Earlier in the race I saw the No. 22… I was right there racing with the No. 22 and the No. 60… the No. 22 split up front of the No. 60, the No. 60 got in (the) back of him.” So, Edwards hit Keselowski well before the bump-and-run, and Keselowski didn’t retaliate.
Keselowski said after the race that he felt that he’d figured out a way to beat Edwards, and Edwards didn’t like that. Keselowski also made the following prediction: “I’m sure he’ll say how sorry he is, or how cool he thinks he is or how great of a guy he is in his own mind,” said Keselowski.
As it turned out, Edwards didn’t apologize, didn’t say any of that. He didn’t have to. NASCAR said it for him.