Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NASCAR Punished Edwards ... and Keselowski?

NASCAR announced on Wednesday that it would punish Carl Edwards for his last-lap incident with Brad Keselowski during Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway ... and no, it's not three weeks of probation.

Edwards will be on probation again -- this time until Dec. 31 -- but NASCAR also docked him 60 driver points, fined him $25,000 and docked car owner Jack Roush 60 points in the owners' championship.

Keselowski was also placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Despite the sanctioning body's "Boys have at it" philosophy heading into the season -- which resulted in Edwards receiving just three weeks' probation after the incident at Atlanta -- NASCAR had to react in this instance. NASCAR had to draw a line, because Edwards' actions clearly went farther than the intention behind NASCAR's loosening of the proverbial reigns.

This was the second time this season that Edwards intentionally dumped Keselowski at a high-speed area of the track, then boasted about it afterward. Both times, Edwards placed others in potential danger; at Atlanta, fans were at risk when Keselowski's car went airborne, and at Gateway, the wreck eventually collected several other drivers before its conclusion.

There was some call for Edwards to be parked a week -- much like Kevin Harvick was for a Cup race in Martinsville in 2002 -- but that would've left NASCAR in an uncomfortable position given the "Boys have at it" edict handed down in January. It was the same reason Edwards' punishment for the Atlanta wreck was so light; how could NASCAR tell the drivers to police themselves, only to step in and drop the hammer when a driver did just that?

But there's "Boys have at it," and there's what Edwards did.

The points penalty is appropriate, because it essentially returns the points to how they would've stood had the wreck not occurred. Keselowski led the most laps, giving him 10 bonus points, so if he had won the race, he would've banked 195 points. His 14th-place finish netted Keselowski 131 point -- a difference of 64 points.

So Edwards gets to keep the win, and the trophy, but he loses virtually all of the points he made up in the championship. While some of the hardier Keselowski fans and everyone else offended by Edwards' move might've liked a harsher penalty, I find the deduction of points appropriate and fair.

But what of Keselowski? Aside from the rubbing in Turn 1, he's done nothing wrong in this instance -- even the Atlanta incident that led Edwards to intentionally wreck him the first time was really Edwards' fault. NASCAR's official stance is that it placed Keselowski on probation because he has a history with Edwards, but I think it's something else entirely.

Putting Keselowski on probation was more of a preventative measure than a punitive one. Probation, nebulous as it is, spans across all three of NASCAR's national touring series -- Camping World Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup -- and any action in one series can affect a driver's standing in another. When Harvick was parked for the Martinsville Cup race in 2002, it was for a wreck he deliberately caused in a truck race.

Keselowski, 26th in Cup points, has nothing to lose on that side, while Edwards is fighting for a spot in the Chase. But Keselowski is the Nationwide Series points leader, so if Keselowski paid back Edwards in a Cup race, NASCAR could theoretically penalize him in the Nationwide Series. To me, putting Keselowski on probation is NASCAR's way of trying to prevent Keselowski from seeking payback.

Of course, there's nothing saying Keselowski can't dish out payback next season. Immediate payback is extremely rare in NASCAR.

NASCAR also sent a message to other drivers, many of whom have wondered just how far "Boys have at it" goes. Now those drivers know; NASCAR will embrace rubbing, bump-and-runs and spinouts in the turns. The sanctioning body probably even relishes in the post-race war of words that drivers sometimes get into (looking at you, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick).

But what this sport can't have is one driver intentionally wrecking another and putting others in danger in the process. Today's cars and tracks are safer than ever before, but there is no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to safety in racing. If a driver gets payback so aggressively, and his victim dies -- or kills someone else in the process -- what's NASCAR to do?

We can debate the severity of the penalty, but NASCAR had to issue one. There was no way around this.

1 comment:

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