Minter: Atlanta Was Site Of Another Huge Incident
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Maybe it’s because I’m getting old or because I dwell too much on the past, but I can’t help but think of the ironies in the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski situation at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Sunday.
It seems like just a few races back that Edwards was involved in another late-race run-in at Atlanta.
It was back in the fall of 2004. Lap 312 of 325. At that point, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the man who plucked Keselowski from the ruins of a failed Nationwide Series effort and made him a star, was on pace to win the Sprint Cup championship in the first year of the Chase.
Kurt Busch, the latest Atlanta winner and Earnhardt’s main rival back in ’04, had blown an engine early, leaving Earnhardt in position to take a huge points lead. Earnhardt was on pace to finish second or third in the race.
Enter Carl Edwards, then making his 10th career Cup start and in a similar position to Keselowski today – a talented, aggressive young driver trying to make a name for himself.
As the two entered Turn 3, they crashed. Earnhardt wound up 33rd, and his best chance to date of winning a championship was lost. That wreck was a lot like the one early in last Sunday’s race at Atlanta, the one that apparently got Edwards so steamed that he went back out and wrecked Keselowski, sending him flying into the fence.
Imagine how much simpler everyone’s life would be if Keselowski had given Edwards a break at that point.
Likewise, imagine how different NASCAR and Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Inc. would look today had Edwards cut Earnhardt a break and the two of them had made it through Turn 3 back in ‘04.
I asked Earnhardt last year where that moment ranks among the significant milestones of his career.
“When you look back over your career, that definitely sticks out in the top five,” he said, adding that if he’d come through that one corner unscathed it would have led to “a whole new outcome for our team and the championship that year, not only that year but in the future.”
His uncle and then-crew chief, Tony Eury Sr., agreed that a lot changed that fall afternoon in Atlanta.
“That was the closest we ever came,” Eury said. “Everybody thought we were going to be the ones to beat. We had everything going our way. It seemed like we had the luck and everything else, and that one deal killed it all.”
Eury said that if the team had made it through Atlanta, he would have played a different strategy in the remaining races, especially in the season finale at Homestead, where they finished 23rd after winning at Phoenix and finishing 11th at Darlington.
“We probably would have done things a little different at Homestead.” Eury said. “Things would be a lot different for sure.”
Earnhardt said his feelings about the incident have changed over time, but they were raw for a while.
“I was upset at Carl. He was young, just getting started in the Cup Series,” he said. “But I’d done the same thing to Ryan Newman two times off of Turn 2.”
Newman also vividly recalled that day, but he pointed out that there’s not much that can be done about things once they happen.
“You think back to things you would have done different, but you don’t dwell on them,” he said.
I also talked to Edwards last year about that wreck.
“That was bad,” he said, the look on his face changing from all smiles before he heard the question to one of true regret once he heard it. “If I had that do over again, I would have let him ease right in and go on.
“But in my mind then, I was caught up in the moment, in the battle. I knew he was thinking, ‘This rookie will give me room.’
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m racing for my sponsor, for a job and all that stuff.’
“When it happened I didn’t realize…. I didn’t realize until about a year later how important those chances to win a championship are. I finished third in that race. If I had finished fourth I don’t think it would have mattered.
“Seeing the type of person [Earnhardt] is and learning more about how all this works, I wish I could have lifted, I wish I could go back and fix it.”
I wonder if Edwards and Keselowski, if asked the same kind questions five years from now, will have similar answers.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments