Harris: Welcome To The New NASCAR
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
If you were angry with NASCAR before last Sunday’s race at Atlanta, you’re more than likely furious now.
Carl Edwards, whose admitted retaliatory strike against Brad Keselowski late in the race sent Keselowski’s Penske Dodge flying through the air, will be on probation for the next three Sprint Cup races for the transgression that initially got him parked.
What the probation means, in reality is Edwards best not draw any negative attention on track over the next three weeks or he may actually get his wrist slapped. In other words, it means nothing. The powers that be might as well have done just that – nothing.
But I guess NASCAR felt it had to do something in the wake of the incident that enraged many fans.
Nobody is quite sure if the anger of the fans stems from the fact that Edwards was 156 laps behind the leaders when he stalked the sixth-place Keselowski and returned the favor that Keselowski had delivered early in the race when he sent Edwards into the wall, or if the ire was fomented by the scary crash.
The attackee’s car spun around, got airborne and crashed into the fencing right in front of the well-populated grandstand before landing back on its wheels. Keselowski was not injured and, thankfully, there were no injuries in the stands – a much more important measure of the incident.
Edwards openly stated on his Facebook account that he went after Keselowski, although he said he had no intention of sending him flying or causing bodily injury to anyone.
Still, in the recent past, such an admission might have resulted in a big fine, a loss of championship points and, gasp, even a suspension. But it looks like NASCAR is serious about letting the Sprint Cup drivers have a very long leash on track.
What we have here is the kind of wishy-washy decision that likely would not have come down if the late Bill France Jr. was still in charge of the Good Ol’ Boys.
Brian France, his son, is the man now in command at NASCAR, and it is his mandate that prompted vice president of competition Robin Pemberton’s now infamous “Have at it, boys’’ comment a few weeks before the 2010 season began.
I’m not saying that Bill Jr. wouldn’t have agreed with Brian about putting some pizzazz back in what had become something of a button-down sport. What I am saying is that once an incident like this one took place – one that escalated into more than a simple tit-for-tat – there would have been a bigger reaction, if only in the name of public relations.
With NASCAR struggling to regain fans, rebuild sagging TV ratings and find new sponsors while holding on to current ones, the latest France to lead NASCAR was probably right to give the boys a bit more leeway, get some of the competitive juices flowing again and bring back some needed excitement to the stock car arena.
But it’s unlikely Edwards was thinking about the “Have at it, boys’’ freedom when he pushed its limit Sunday, sending everybody’s current favorite villain flying.
Now NASCAR’s action – or lack thereof – sends a pretty strong message that drivers can get away with just about anything.
Lest we forget, these guys are driving 3,400-pound vehicles, a pretty impressive weapon in the hands of somebody seeing only red mist. Despite the newer, safer cars that NASCAR is so proud of, and the all the improvements in safety equipment around the drivers and at the tracks, racing remains a dangerous sport.
Having been around this sport for more than 40 years, I can say from experience that bad things happen when you least expect them – often when you get lulled into complacency and begin to believe you’re bulletproof.
Retaliation has been part of the stock car scene since the first race among bootleggers on a dirt track. NASCAR can’t and won’t eliminate it. And it shouldn’t. It’s exciting and provides some great subplots.
But Edwards and everyone else out there on track needs to remember there is a time and place for everything, and a high speed track like Atlanta probably isn’t the right place to get even.
Let’s hope it isn’t going to take a serious injury, or worse, to prompt NASCAR to regain the drivers’ attention and remind them it’s at least partially their responsibility for keeping the sport as safe as possible.
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments