When NASCAR placed Carl Edwards on three races' probation after his late-race incident with Brad Keselowski in the Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta, everyone assumed whatever beef the two drivers had with each other was over.
But after the end of Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway, in which Edwards turned Keselowski head-on into the fence on the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag, the rivalry has begun anew. Keselowski, the series point leader, had the dominant car, though Edwards was strong and held the high line on the green-white checkered restart.
That high line gave Edwards the lead, and heading into Turn 1 on the final lap, Keselowski tapped Edwards in the left rear. Edwards broke loose, but gathered his car and actually held the lead going down the backstretch. Keselowski grabbed the advantage in turns 3 and 4, only to have Edwards hook into Keselowski's right rear and send him into the wall.
Keselowski slammed the outside wall head-on, before coming down and hitting head-on into the inside wall. As his car came to stop, Shelby Howard plowed into the front of Keselowski's car, spinning him around and pushing him across the finish line.
Keselowski was unhurt, and Edwards went on to win his second Nationwide race of the season.
Much like the Atlanta incident, Edwards didn't shy away from taking the blame.
"I just couldn't let him take the win from me," Edwards said. "We came to win. He took it from us there in Turn 1. And, man, I just couldn't let him take it from us. I had to do what I had to do.
"The deal is he'll eventually learn he can't run into my car over and over and put me in bad situations. In every situation, there is an aggressor and there is someone who reacts. I was not the aggressor in this situation."
Never mind the fact that Keselowski led the most laps, by far, and that nothing is given to anyone on the last lap of the race. Keselowski's move heading into Turn 1 was a typical move in stock car racing: get into the guy's quaterpanel, move him out of the way and make the pass.
Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson demonstrated the maneuver perfectly in the closing laps of the Cup race at Loudon, N.H. The below video perfectly displays NASCAR's new "Boys, have at it" meme:
Notice how almost every time Edwards and Keselowski have an incident, the contact is Edwards' fault. Dating back to the April 2009 Sprint Cup race at Talladega, where contact sent Edwards into the catchfence and injured seven fans. Edwards came down in an attempt to block Keselowski, who was holding his ground on the yellow line. Coming to the checkers, Keselowski wasn't about to lift, and he couldn't dive below the yellow line, lest NASCAR penalize him the way it did Regan Smith in 2008.
Then there's the incident at Atlanta. Edwards was retaliating for an incident that occurred in Turn 1 much earlier in the race, where Keselowski was on the inside. Keselowski and Edwards made contact, sending Edwards up the track and into Joey Logano. Replays showed -- and Edwards confirmed in his first interview -- that he initiated the contact by coming down on Keselowski.
Fast-forward to the end of Saturday night's race, and ... yeah.
The only incident between the two that Edwards has any legitimate beef over is one last season during a Nationwide race in Memphis, where Keselowski dumped Edwards on the backstretch. But let's be serious here: if Edwards is still dishing out payback for that incident, we might have some insight as to why Edwards hasn't won a Cup race since 2008. He might need anger management and a deeper examination of priorities.
Edwards' actions behind the wheel, and his cavalier attitude of "Yeah, I did it, so what?" is doing him little favors in terms of his image and his fan base. There are those who see nothing wrong with what Edwards has done, calling it "Boys, have at it" -- and argument bolstered by the fact that NASCAR only gave Edwards three weeks' probation after the Atlanta incident.
If you know what probation means in NASCAR, by all means, tell me.
But Edwards has proven, yet again, how dangerous he can on the track. Not just to Keselowski, either; in the aftermath of Saturday's incident, at least 10 other cars suffered considerable damage. What if something had happened to them. Edwards likes to say he doesn't mean for his payback to get so messy, but it always does.
He has to be held responsible for that.
But also consider:
-The Big One that marred the October 2008 Cup race at Talladega, taking out almost all the Chase contenders, started because Edwards tried to bump-draft teammate Greg Biffle into Turn 3. Kevin Harvick was among those expressing their displeasure at Edwards.
-Edwards also caused the wreck that sent Dale Earnhardt Jr. upside down at the Nationwide race at Daytona this past February. Edwards got into -- guess who -- Keselowski, sending him into Junior's car.
-After Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a Nationwide Series race at Michigan in 2006, Edwards chose to express his displeasure by ramming into the side of Junior's car on the cool-down lap, almost taking off Junior's hand. Edwards then confronted Junior in Victory Lane, something I don't remember seeing in all my years of watching NASCAR.
-Remember Edwards' divebomb move at the end of the 2008 race at Kansas? You know, where he drove deep into Turn 3 and passed leader Jimmie Johnson before drifting up into the wall and finishing second? Yeah, it looked cool and all, but what if Edwards misjudges, and he collects Johnson on the way to the wall?
-Edwards almost got into a fight with teammate (yes, teammate!) Matt Kenseth after a race at Martinsville. When you're balling up fists at your teammates, you've got issues.
-Edwards even dumped Keselowski's Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch at the end of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona two weeks back. Apparently, Edwards has a big problem with Penske ... just don't ask me what.
Edwards has worked hard to present himself as a nice, aw-shucks kind of guy that NASCAR fans can look up to every Sunday, but his actions behind the wheel -- which at times smack of desperation and frustration -- seem to point to something else. Some will jokingly refer to this as "roid rage," given Edwards' chiseled physique, and it might well be, but I really don't know.
All I know is, Edwards keeps punching the karma button, and it's only a matter of time before karma visits him to collect payment. It might come in the form of contact with Keselowski, or someone else might decide to take matters into their own hands. But if Edwards isn't careful -- and examining the evidence above, since when has he been careful? -- things are going to go very wrong, very fast.
Like Keselowski said Saturday night, wrecking on the straightaway is never cool, whether you're going 200 or 120 MPH.