Edwards, Other Drivers, Blast Rules After Keselowski’s Win
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Talladega, Ala. – NASCAR’s rules for racing at Talladega Superspeedway are intended to produce safer racing. Drivers run restrictor plates to slow speeds and they’re prohibited from going below the yellow line at the bottom of the race track, among other things. But on Sunday at the end of the Aaron’s 499, those rules almost caused a disaster.
Rookie Brad Keselowski, driving the No. 09 Chevy owned by the maverick James Finch, moved to the inside of Carl Edwards on the last lap, just like another rookie Regan Smith did to Tony Stewart a year ago.
Last year, Smith drove safely below the yellow line, crossed the finish line first but was disqualified and Tony Stewart won the race.
This time, Keselowski, keenly aware of Smith’s circumstances, held his ground in the bottom groove and the resulting contact sent Edwards’ car sliding into Ryan Newman’s, then up in the air and into the catchfence roof first.
The fence held for the most part its biggest test since Bobby Allison tore out a section in 1987, a wreck that led to the use of restrictor plates.
Edwards emerged from his mangled race car apparently unhurt while Keselowski drove away to a win in just his fifth Cup start.
Afterwards Edwards blamed NASCAR’s rules, not Keselowski, for the near disaster.
“NASCAR just puts us in this box,” Edwards said. “Brad did a great job. Congrats to him on the win, but they put us in this box and we’ll race like this until we kill somebody and then they’ll change it.”
Keselowski apologized to Edwards but insisted that he was only following the rules.
“I was not going to allow myself to be in the same position as Regan Smith,” Keselowski said. “I’m sorry it caused a wreck. That’s the way it is with the rules … I had nothing to lose. I was going to hold my ground.”
At least eight fans were injured by debris from the crash. One woman, her face bloodied, was immobilized on a backboard on a rescue vehicle and being treated by rescue personnel. The speedway’s medical director, Dr. Bobby Lewis said one person was being airlifted to a local hospital with facial injuries and a possible broken jaw.
Three others, two women and a man, were being treated in their seats for apparently minor injuries. Lewis said a total of eight fans were treated for injuries, which he described as minor.
Janet Thompson from Baton Rouge, La., said she was in the party with those with minor injuries. She said they were struck by a “round black cap” that others in the party described as a spring rubber.
But she said she felt safe sitting in Section K just above the track. “There are 160,000 people here and it hit us,” she said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second ahead of Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Scott Speed.
With a full lap to go it looked as if Newman and Earnhardt would settle the race between themselves. But Edwards and Keselowski lined up in the outside groove, with Keselowski shoving Edwards forward until they both cleared the Newman-Earnhardt duo. Then as Edwards and Keselowski started through the tri-oval, Keselowski made his move to the inside. When Edwards moved low, as if to block, the two collided, setting off the wreck.
Edwards said he’s not sure the crash will lead to any changes, and he said that what’s become of the racing at Talladega isn’t really racing to him,
“What’s the point?” he said. “I ran around in the back all day. I didn’t race until the last 30 laps, so what’s the point of the whole event? It’s just a spectacle, that’s cool, I can deal with that, but it shouldn’t be worth points…
“You aren’t going to win unless you have somebody pushing you or you’re pushing someone all the way around the race track – I mean 360 degrees around the circle. That’s the box we’re in. That’s what you have to do, so I was extremely grateful Brad was pushing me. That was my only chance to win.
“I guess if I had to do it over again I’d just move over and let him go and finish fourth, I wouldn’t even try to win because you’re going to have wrecks like that if you try.”
He said wrecks like the one Sunday are sobering.
“I saw some fencing at one point and that made me a little bit nervous,” he said. “I don’t know if I could live with myself if I ended up in the grandstands.”
Ambrose was among those critical of what racing at Talladega has become.
“This is crazy racing,” he said. “We can legitimize it all we want, but it’s insanity on four wheels.”
The win was the first on the Cup level for Finch, who dedicated the victory to the family of Neil Bonnett, who was killed while driving a Finch-owned car at Daytona in 1994.
Keselowski said contact, even at high speeds, is OK by him. “There has to be some element of danger in it,” he said. “That’s what the fans want.”
Earnhardt and Newman both said that any changes that come from the crash need to be focused on the cars, not the yellow-line rule.
Kurt Busch was the big winner, points-wise on Sunday. He finished sixth and took the points lead. Jeff Gordon, the previous leader, was involved in the first multi-car crash, on Lap 7. Jimmie Johnson, who dropped to third, was in a crash on Lap 180.