Does Carl Edwards deserve a suspension?
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Carl Edwards was 156 laps off the lead when he apparently decided it was time to settle a score with Brad Keselowski.
The result was a frightening crash that sent Keselowski's car flying toward the stands at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and put NASCAR's "have at it" philosophy to the test a mere four races into a season that was supposed to let the drivers show more aggression and emotion.
Will Edwards be suspended for what appeared to be an intentional bump of Keselowski at more than 190 mph? Or will NASCAR give the No. 99 a pass for merely taking its new mandate to the extreme?
"To come back and intentionally wreck someone, that's not cool," said Keselowski, who escaped Sunday's crash unscathed. "You could have killed someone in the grandstands."
The feud between Edwards and Keselowski boiled over with three laps to go in the Kobalt Tools 500, a race won by Kurt Busch but overshadowed by the shenanigans going on behind him.
A decision from NASCAR is expected Monday or Tuesday. Edwards faces the possibility of a fine, loss of points or even a suspension for the next race at Bristol in two weeks.
"I would say there seems to be a history between those two drivers," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "I'm not going to go any further into it right now."
There's definitely some history between these guys.
Last April, Keselowski and Edwards were racing for the win in a tightly bunched pack at Talladega when their cars got together. Edwards spun into Ryan Newman's path, and the second hit sent Edwards' car soaring toward the main stands.
While the battered car was slung back onto the track by the safety fencing and Edwards was OK, seven fans were injured by flying debris.
"At least I didn't do it intentionally when it happened," Keselowski said.
The two scrapped again in Atlanta. Early on, Keselowski got underneath Edwards coming through turns one and two, which sent the No. 99 careening into Joey Logano along the outside wall.
While his car was in the garage for lengthy repairs, Edwards complained that Keselowski "never gives any room at all" but sounded as though he wasn't too upset about the incident.
Clearly, he was.
With Keselowski contending for a top-five finish, Edwards banged into him as they came to the start-finish line. Keselowski's No. 12 car went into a spin, lifted off the track, turned upside down and slammed into the barrier in front of the stands with the roof. The battered machine flipped back onto the track, landing right side up.
"It will be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts to it. They have the ball," Keselowski said. "If they're going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast, we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands. It's not cool to wreck someone intentionally at 195 mph."
After the crash, NASCAR ordered Edwards off the track. He drove defiantly around the quarter-mile track in front of the stands and went backward down the pit lane before meeting privately with series officials in their trailer.
Climbing from the car, he didn't even bother with a denial.
"Brad knows the deal between him and I," Edwards said. "The scary part is the car went airborne, which was not what I expected. At the end of the day, we're out here to race and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of respect for people's safety.
"I wish it wouldn't have gone like that, but I'm glad he's OK and we'll just go on and race some more and maybe him and I won't get in any more incidents together. That would be the best thing."
NASCAR finds itself in a tough spot. Before the season, the governing body encouraged drivers to do more banging and show more emotion, in large part to answer a growing fan sentiment that the sport had gone stale. Pemberton himself said, "We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say 'Boys, have at it and have a good time.'"
While suspensions are rare in a sport that rewards consistency and being on the track for every race, they're not unprecedented.
In 2007, Robby Gordon spun out Marcus Ambrose during a Nationwide series race in Montreal, ignored a black flag and was suspended for the following day's Cup event at Pocono. That same year, truck driver Ted Musgrave was ordered to sit out a race for hitting a competitor during a caution period.
The facts in this case seem pretty clear.
"It looked like it could have been a payback from the No. 99 on the No. 12," Pemberton said. "We talked with Carl after the race and we have an understanding about it. ... Carl said he got into him. He said he didn't expect the result."
Keselowski defended his actions in the first incident Sunday.
"He cut down on me on a restart and I lifted (off the accelerator). I couldn't lift fast enough," he said. "I was underneath him and tried to cut him a break. It was too late, though. He turned down. I apologized to him, but there was nothing that I could do in that situation."
The race need a couple of overtime restarts before Busch pulled away for the win.
After the Keselowski smashup, Busch pulled off a brilliant move to slip between Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer, snatching away the lead going into turn one. But he couldn't get all the way around to take the white flag before a seven-car crash broke out behind him.
On the second green-white-checkered attempt, Busch powered away on the restart, zipped around the track two more times and beat Matt Kenseth to the line by nearly half a second to win the Atlanta spring race for the second year in a row. It took 16 extra laps to finish a race that was scheduled for 325.
Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Menard.
"You have to adjust to whatever circumstances there are to win these races," said Busch, who snapped Jimmie Johnson's two-race winning streak. "No doubt we did our job on pit road, no doubt we did our job on long runs, and I think we hit the right combination for restarts. That's what I'm most proud of."