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Texas ‘Has At It’ With Edwards Vs. Keselowski Ads

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 16 2010
Last year, Carl Edwards and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage's shot guns together to sell tickets. This year, Edwards is again helping TMS sell tickets. (Getty Images/Tom Pennington)

Last year, Carl Edwards and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage's shot guns together to sell tickets. This year, Edwards is again helping TMS sell tickets. (Getty Images/Tom Pennington)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Eddie Gossage says his use of the controversial wreck involving Sprint Cup antagonists Carl Edwards and an airborne Brad Keselowski as an advertising tool at Texas Motor Speedway is the residue of NASCAR’s “Have at it, boys” philosophy – and a staple of Promotion 101.

Gossage, the president of TMS, has incorporated the wreck from the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 7 into the track’s “APPROVED” advertising campaign for the Samsung Mobile 500 here on April 18. Gossage said NASCAR president Mike Helton’s announcement last Tuesday limiting Edwards’ punishment to a three-race probation – essentially a slap on the wrist – triggered his decision to run an “old school” newspaper advertisement.

The ad shows Edwards driving away from contact as the rear-end of Keselowski’s car begins to take flight. The headline reads, “Have at it, boys. APPROVED.”

The ad has garnered national attention. Most notably, Gossage appeared on Speed TV’s popular Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain talk show on Sunday night, expanding upon a blog post that appeared in ESPNDallas.com on Friday.

“It’s been surprising that it’s gotten as much attention as it has,” Gossage said during a phone interview Monday afternoon. “We only bought two little ads in the Dallas Morning News – one on Thursday of last week and one on Sunday. It’s not like we’ve been plastering them around. It’s run in the Dallas Morning News and that’s the only place – and it’s not scheduled to run again.

“It’s not a billboard or a TV commercial. Our billboards have been out for three months and it costs so much to change them that it’s not an efficient use of our money. So there are no billboards about this.”

Gossage said fan response has been overwhelmingly in favor of Carl-whacks-Brad. “My Facebook site and the Speedway’s Facebook got a ton of messages, and 100 percent they (fans) think it’s really cool,” Gossage said. “There hasn’t been one dissenting voice. That is so freaking cool.

“There’s been some reporters to say (otherwise), but those are the same reporters that have been writing or talking about it the whole week. They certainly are using it for their own benefit. It is THE subject in racing. I was in Indianapolis last week (on TMS-related business), and even if you only have a passing knowledge of the sport you know about this incident.

“Not only would we be foolish not to find some way to engage it, (but) we also have an obligation. The question to the other track promoters out there should be, ‘Why are you not doing something like this?’ Maybe that’s why we sell so many tickets.” TMS annually hosts the largest single-day sporting events in Texas with its two Sprint Cup races.

Gossage said he was contacted by reporters from USA Today, the New York Times and Time magazine last week for an opinion about the wreck, which conveniently led into Cup’s first off-weekend of the 2010 season. “This was before the ad (appeared),” Gossage said. “It’s a big, big story. That’s why we can’t ignore it. It was a spectacular crash and I can understand how people might go, ‘They’ve (NASCAR) got to be kidding with this penalty.’ But just because a car gets upside down doesn’t mean it’s worse than any other wreck.”

Still, Gossage said he wrestled with the idea of using the crash as a ticket-selling device.

“I don’t see it as an ethical issue,”  said Gossage, widely acknowledged as motorsports’ premier promoter. “But I would not even have thought about it had someone been even the slightest bit injured. These are two guys who are important to the sport. Carl Edwards is going to win (Cup) championships and Brad Keselowski has a chance to be something special. I thought long and hard about it…and I don’t want to be rocking the boat with NASCAR. But when the decision came down Tuesday not to issue a significant penalty on Carl, I said, ‘They must be OK with it. This must be OK.’ ”

Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing, escaped suspension, a points penalty and/or monetary fine when many observers _ including former Cup driver Kyle Petty _ were calling for the harshest punishment. Edwards finished 11th in points in 2009, failing to score a victory after winning nine races in 2008.

Keselowski is four races into his first season as driver of the No. 12 Dodge Charger fielded by Penske Racing. Keselowski’s aggressive style is certainly part of the reason he was voted the Nationwide Series’ Most Popular Driver in 2008 and 2009.

The history between Edwards and Keselowski dates to the latter’s first Cup win on April 26, 2009 at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Keselowski drove through the carnage of a spectacular last-lap wreck in which contact from his car sent Edwards’ airborne and spinning into the catch-fence. Edwards admitted he intentionally settled the score on the 1.54-mile AMS quadoval after earlier contact between the two forced him into the garage area for extensive repairs.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, gave the sanctioning body’s blessing to the “Have at it, boys” policy during the annual Media Tour in January. Basically, in another bow to “old school racing” favored by the fans, drivers have been given the leeway to police themselves on-track before being called into the NASCAR trailer for an official reprimand.

“The lack of a significant penalty reiterated the ‘Have at it, boys” (directive) from earlier in the year,” Gossage said. “I will say that Mike Helton also said (last week) that, ‘There’s a line, don’t cross it, guys. Respect each other and respect yourself.’ Back in January, they didn’t say, ‘There’s a line.’ They couldn’t punish Carl because they didn’t have a qualifier on that. Really, nothing crossed the line in this instance because they gave them carte blanche. Now there’s a line…’If you think you’re going to get into trouble… don’t do it.’ ”

Gossage said he has not received any feedback from NASCAR officials over the campaign. “Nor should I,” Gossage said. “Their response would have come in the form of a penalty, and they didn’t issue anything significant.”

TMS’ current “APPROVED” campaign of ads and billboards features, for instance, a shot of four-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s crumpled No. 48 Chevrolet Impala from November’s Dickies 500 with the headline, “Door Dings. APPROVED.” The word “APPROVED” appears as if stamped in red ink.

“We got a great photo of Juan Pablo Montoya (driver of the No. 42 Chevy) with this real wild-eyed look and it says…’Road Rage. APPROVED,’ ” Gossage said. “And there’s a shot of Joey Logano’s car (No. 20 Toyota Camry) flipping over and over that reads, ‘Tailgating. APPROVED.’ The campaign was designed so that if something was to happen on Sunday, we could capitalize on Monday. The issue of the “APPROVED” stamp is to cause people to discuss it. And there could be things coming up after Bristol or Martinsville or even Phoenix that we can jump on.”

The tour returns this weekend for the Food City 500 at the high-banked, half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway _ NASCAR’s most demanding and entertaining bullring. That is followed by stops at the half-mile, paper clip-shaped Martinsville Speedway and the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

Coincidentally, Gossage gleefully noted, the Samsung Mobile 500 on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval will be Edwards’ first race off probation.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 16 2010
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