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Minter: Atlanta Was Site Of Another Huge Incident

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 11 2010
Dale Earnhardt was driving the No. 8 Budweiser car in 2004. It appeared headed to a Sprint Cup championship. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was driving the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy in 2004. It appeared to be headed to a Sprint Cup championship. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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 rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 11 2010
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • paul says:

    who remembers it this way.You guys must be stoned into another poor jr thread. The way it was is earnhardt pulled up in front of edwards and wrecked himself as even he admitted.Jr pulled up to soon and took himself out.How was this Carls fault.

    So now its Carls fault jr can’t win a championship.Good Lord next Carl was in the grassy knoll when Kennedy was shot!

    Here is the real deal!
    Jr hasn’t and will never win a championship period.Lets take a look back.

    Teresa was a bad step mother because she woulden’t[ give ] Jr her company.
    Jrs motors were bad
    His cars are bad
    All his crew chiefs are bad
    Hendrick is giving jr what the 48 has
    Tony eury jr was bad
    Now lance is bad

    Hey get a clue! This ranks right up there with the pass in the grass that never ever happened.Dale got tapped and ran threw the grass.Where was the pass!

    Learn how to relate fantasy from reality and admit it to yourself over and over.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Super article. Does make me think I might need to re-think how I feel about the Carl-Brad run-in. Thank you.

  • Dustin says:

    I think a lot of this is Dale Jr related. A lot of fans dislike Dale Jr and dislike Brad K because he’s associated with Dale Jr. Some of these people are a bit nutty, mainly because some Dale Jr fans are a bit nutty (I’m a Dale Jr fan myself, so I’m not dissing the entire community of fans… just the ones who are insane, of which there are many).

    Carl caused the early incident at Atlanta. And he caused the one at Talladega. Brad really is aggressive, but the idea that he had this coming is simply media hype and spin getting way out of control. For one thing, Carl obviously had ‘it’ coming more than Brad did. Denny Hamlin and Brad had settled their score already, so that’s not really relevant.

    Brad just doesn’t do the give and take. That’s a legitimate tactic. It’s not cause to rage smash him. But the anti Dale Jr crowd cheers this as the right outcome. It’s interesting that Dale Jr handles problems with a lot of class, but it’s worn him out. Nascar is the wrong sport for classy men these days.

    As far as Nascar’s rulings go, it thrives on changing rules and creating artificial conflict and novelty. They want more wrecks and caution flags and hardships and drama. While it is very entertaining, it’s not real motorsport anymore. And it used to be pure motorsport. The people running Nascar are successful, but they are succeeding at the wrong goal, in my opinion. Having more consistent views on how to end races, build cars, aggressively drive, all that stuff leads to innovations being motorsport related instead of dramatic.

    Motorsports were originally meant to have an actual purpose with real world impact. It was a test of building the greatest cars that could quickly and reliably handle contests and real life. Nascar used to be the ultimate test of reliability at high speed on American style long stretches of road. Now it’s WWF racing, and the cars pretending to be part of the sport are particularly terrible.

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  • Kelly says:

    Pot meet Kettle.

    Interesting that after all Edwards had cost him, Dale Jr didn’t feel the need to intentional wreck the him.

  • Ginger says:

    Apparently Carl didn’t learn too much from that incident. His regret was short lived. What a shame he changed the course of Earnhardt’s career, DEI’s future, and the face of Nascar. Once again his ego has gotten the better of him, and it has probably changed his own reputation in Nascar. He will never be known as the “aw shucks” kid again.

  • Jamerson says:

    That really was a bad deal. It makes me feel a little better about Carl to hear he regrets his mistake that day. I’d like to hear how Edwards would react now to someone mentioning that incident to him.