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Minter: Drivers Need To Speak Up

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 8 2010
Should NASCAR be rethinking its policy of "Have at it" in wake of Atlanta crashes? (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Should NASCAR be rethinking its policy of "Have at it" in wake of Atlanta crashes? (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Hampton, Ga. – For the second time in less than a year, I’ve sat in a press box at a high-speed NASCAR track and watched a car be spun around, lift off the ground, turn upside down and slam into a retaining wall and catchfence.

At Talladega Superspeedway last year, it was Carl Edwards flying into the fence, nearly windshield first, with Brad Keselowski, the driver he’d just tangled with, going on to win the race. At Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday it was Keselowski flying upside down, almost head first into the wall, after contact, apparently intentional, from Edwards.

This time it wasn’t for the win. Edwards was 156 laps down and from all indications delivering payback for an earlier incident or incidents between the two of them.

The crashes may look exciting on TV, but in person, they’re sickening.

At Talladega, fellow reporter Monte Dutton and I left our seats in the press box and went to the crash scene below where we found a handful of battered and bruised fans who looked like they’d just lost a bar room brawl. Up at the top of the stands, a young lady was lying flat on her back on a stretcher attached to a rescue vehicle. She had bled enough from her jaw to turn a starched white towel nearly completely red.

NASCAR and track officials went of their way to label the injuries “minor.”

At Atlanta, Keselowski’s car stayed out of the spectator area. Mercifully there were no injuries.

If there’s an upside to the crash at Atlanta it’s that it raised questions about the “Have at it, boys” approach to racing that NASCAR officials announced earlier this year.

Drivers and series officials spent most of the post-race news conference time answering questions about just how much wrecking is acceptable in the “Have at it, boys” era.

Is there a difference, from an enforcement standpoint, in wrecking someone at Martinsville at 90 miles per hour and putting them in the fence at Atlanta at 200? What kind of punishment, if any, can drivers expect? Will the sport continue to cater to a segment of the fan base – hopefully a small one – that shows up at the track or turns on the TV just to see bone-jarring, potentially deadly wrecks?

What all this calls for is some leadership from the garage – not NASCAR officials or TV commentators or even members of the press but veteran drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

They need to stand up and demand professional, civil behavior in the sport, and if they don’t they’re dishonoring the legacy of the people who helped bring NASCAR from the rough and tumble bullrings of the South to the national scene.

They need to stand up and tell their fans in no uncertain terms that the sport has been over-hyped. They need to spread the word to the public and to their younger peers that rivalries are good but irresponsible driving is not.

They need to tell their fans that the fact that the Car of Tomorrow is safer does not mean that a driver or fan won’t be hurt or killed.

They need to point out that NASCAR racing is about dueling for positions, with mutual respect among drivers, and strategy and doing everything possible on the track and on pit road to get the best result possible.

They need to use the media to get the word out instead of trying to spend as little time as possible with the press.

They need to explain to fans that just as motorists on the highway have to trust that oncoming drivers will stay in their lane and abide by the rules of the road, NASCAR drivers need to know they can do their jobs without worrying about a competitor having no regard for common decency.

They need to demand that something be done about the track at Talladega, where a “boring” race last year got all of this mess started.

Drivers and race teams and sponsors and promoters need to be prepared to run a race with a top driver sitting out a race as punishment.

Carl Edwards is a great guy, and has been one of the most helpful to many of us in the media over the years, but when a driver pulls a stunt like Edwards did at Atlanta he needs to sit out a race so he can rethink his and the sport’s priorities.

If he or any other driver is frustrated by pressure from his sponsors or team owners, the sponsors and team owners should back off and work on fixing whatever the problem may be.

For years, NASCAR has grown while portraying its athletes as role models and for the most part they have been.

But wrecking another driver intentionally sends a terrible message.

Demolition Derbies are amateur events that belong at county fairs or local short tracks.

NASCAR racing should be a professional sport. It’s time for its stars to step up and insist that it be that way.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 8 2010
12 Comments

12 Comments »

  • Steve says:

    If you think this is over between Carl and Brad, your sorely mistaken. This just adds fuel to the fire now that the ahem “punishment” has been issued. If the roles are reversed, you can bet Brad will put the hammmer down on Carl, especially since Brad had a possible top 5 going on Sunday that hasn’t been talked about much. I”m sure Brad won’t have a problem ruining his day. Sadly, though, Nascar would probably suspend Brad because he is not one of the chosen ones.

    Another question i have now that they did nothing to Carl (and yes 3 race probation is nothing), are these guys going to race clean going for the win or are they just going to crash each other to get the victory. Case in point, Jimmie Johnson is leading and Denny Hamlin is 2nd, will Hamlin try and pass Jimmie clean or will he wreck him. If Denny wrecks him to get the victory, Nascar has no choice but to do nothing right? Or does it depend on who you are?

    Something tells me if one of the “chosen ones” is the victim, they will act differently

  • Tammy Brewington says:

    Loved the story Rick and it’s dead-on right. As I posted on Woody’s story, if these guys have a beef, take it outside or behind the woodshed one on one! Put the big boys pants on and act like a man, not a road-rage filled teenager! Lives are at stake, in the grandstands and on track. Carl and Brad both need to be tamed down, but Carl cannot take a beat up old car out there with the sole purpose of wrecking someone. And that’s what he did! So, yes, he should be parked for at least one or two races! And fined heavily. And if Brad does anymore boneheads things, same punishment for him.

  • lydia says:

    There seems to be three names on the “list” of those who “owe” Brad…Montoya, Hamlin, and Edwards…hmmm…three VERY “listable on other drivers lists” drivers! Hamlin is more immature then Logano was at age 10….Montoya plows through the field and anyone in his way like he is running a demolition derby..and Edwards has the temper of the devil himself. I realize Brad is a very aggressive driver…but I am an avid watcher of ALL the races..Cup and Nationwide and Truck…and I fail to see where Brad has warranted all this “attention”. Most of his altercations have been in the Nationwide Series..and most of them with the above named drivers..especially Edwards and Hamlin. AND it is that point seems quite odd to me… Could it be Edwards and Hamlin are going out of their way to agitate and rough Brad up…to show Brad who’s in charge? Could it be these two “veterans” don’t like being challenged by a youngster..one who is close to being their equal when it comes to driving and Nationwide wins? Could all this “up in arms” over Kez be because there are a couple of veterans who feel threatened and are determined to put the offending rookie in “his place”? I understand there is a pecking order in racing…but I don’t think that pecking order should allow veterans to “pick on” rookies…or anyone else they deem in their way. As far as Brad’s aggressive driving..well I think it will sort itself out..after all he is now the team mate of a driver who has been through it all..and who will undoubtedly have “words of wisdom” “don’t do as I did..do as I say” to shower on the young driver. At this point as far as I am concerned all Carl has done is show his own evil streak and immaturity..and if I was another veteran on the track I would surely keep my distance from the hothead driver of the 99..just ask Stewart or Harvick or Kenseth…

  • Charles says:

    Its high time Nascar stopped Brad K along time ago!!!!!!

    Has Brad who was driving for Rick Hendrick program last year ever been fined??????????

    Seens Brad was alwaying hitting Denny Hamlin or Carl Edwards but Nascar let him get away with it!

    Funny on how all these Cocky new drivers talk a bad rap, but all of a sudden when the shoe is on the other foot they become ’safety experts”

    Though that the driver of the no 12 car sounded a lot like Ralph Nader! Mabe he has learned a lesson now!!!!! Carl just did the Dale SR thing, Remember Talledega 1993 with Rusty Wallace! and the fine should be the same!!!!!! nothing!!!!!!!!!

    Nascar better not fine Carl with out fine Brad K!!!!

  • tg6752 says:

    Minter, what are you smoking theses days? If you are truly a “senior writer” you will remember back to NASCAR’s explosion in popularity that was fueled by drivers like Dale Sr. pulling similar stunts. NASCAR got just what they wanted to buoy sagging ratings..feuds, controversy, PUBLICITY. Do you really think there would have been coverage of Sunday’s race on the network news yesterday if the result had been yet another ho hum boring Jimmie Johnson victory? No, but they were all over the footage of Keslowski’s short flight.

    Privately, NASCAR’s officials are probably delighted. They should actually thank Carl for giving them what they needed. If they park Carl at Bristol, all they will do is kill their momentum and potential ratings boost by not being able to hype the rematch. And another thing; Keslowski definitely had it coming……

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Carl’s statements to Dick Bergeran while his car was being repaired contradict what he said after mugging Brad. Now how can you tell when Carl means what he says?

  • Mike says:

    “Have at it Boys” is about as stupid as “Own the Podium from the recent Olympics.

    I stopped watching Nascar years ago. I used to enjoy it. It’s days like yesterday that drive my viewpoint home. Have you ever noticed that Road Rage laws came into being shortly after Nascar became mainstream. It’s because for three hours every Sunday you can sit in your living room watch these guys bouncing off each other with the pedal mashed to the floor.

    It was transferred to city streets and country roads raising the risk for all drivers. When Nascar fails to harshly police this risky behavior it transfers the risk to the rest of us, that is unforgivable.

  • ed says:

    Interfering with a top 10 car, when you are over 150 laps down, is childish and immature at best. At the speeds of Atlanta, it is wrecklessly dangerous to fans and other drivers. A “have at it, boys” policy does not condone stupidity and that is the nicest thing than can describe Edward’s behavior Sunday. Brad K needs his ass kicked out behind the garage, but attempting to kill him is beyond the pale no matter who you are. Carl Edwards has a very nasty temper when he feels wronged and setting out two weekends in Missouri with the new baby may help him control it in the future. If not, Stewart’s anger management coach is likely still available.

    And Rick is right. Talladega is a deathtrap and needs to be shortened, flattened or just eliminated from the NASCAR schedule. Even if St. Bill built it. It’s a bad track and a junk race.

  • MUBULLDOG says:

    You know what they say about pay backs, “they’re a b*$ch.”

    Keselowski had it coming.

    As Carl’s uncle told me last night in Columbia, after the race, “this is the first, that kid has’em lined up for payback.”

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  • Glen Harness says:

    Rick, I couldn’t agree with you more. Settling things on the track doesn’t mean taking a cheap shot at someone just because they were in the way when you tried to slide down to the line (as Edwards did to Keseloski to cause the earlier caution). If NASCAR doesn’t sit Edwards out for a race or two, they’ll lose what remaining credibility they had.

    And “Dick”, this isn’t about “Kid K”; this is about Carl Edwards, a supposedly professional race car driver, attempting to kill another driver (yes, I’m serious). If NASCAR doesn’t get involved, maybe it’s time to bring in the authorities?

    • Alex Trottier says:

      Glen you are 100% correct. As Edwards said he decided to race him hard. From what I’ve heard, Carl drives 100% all the time, and he seems to be proud of that. Should Brad let him pass, golly gee I thought it was a race. If Carl doesn’t want this to happen again, don’t put your car where there is already a car. In Talladega Carl drove into Brad K and took himself out.
      Maybe this should be handled by the local police as a attempted murder.

  • DICK ISHAM says:

    I knew you holier then thou guys would start the minute I watched Carl dump kid K. It’s too bad he flipped but it was also too bad Carl flipped, almost into the stands, at Talladega last year. There would be no reason for a “pay Back” if kid K paid attention to his driving instead of trying to run everyone over.

    I’m from Michigan, I’ve watched the family and the kid grow up (well almost) he’s one hell of a driver if he would just stop trying to run people over or pushing them out of the way.

    NASCAR popped off about letting the boys settle things on the track or off and now look at what they got. Carl took it seriously that they meant it but we’ll have to wait and see.

    Carl isn’t the only one kid K has messed with. Hamlin is still “waiting in the bushes” for his turn. The kid needs to grow up, you don’t see “sliced bread” (who is younger and was creamed when the kid bumped Carl act like a jerk on the track) He’s not out there pushing people around.

    Oh well, enough said.