On Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR president Mike Helton announced his decision on punishment for Sunday's spectacular Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski wreck: probation for three races. No fine, no suspension.
In the immediate aftermath of the wreck, NASCAR summoned Edwards to the hauler, where they "made it very clear these actions were not acceptable," Helton said. "This did go beyond putting driving in the hands of the drivers." Helton indicated that Edwards understood the severity of his actions. NASCAR plans to hold a sit-down with Edwards, Keselowski and their respective owners, Jack Roush and Roger Penske, to "clear the air" and allow them to get back to "hard, competitive, side-by-side racing."
(On a related note, Helton also questioned why the 12 car took flight at a track like Atlanta, which traditionally doesn't see the kinds of flying cars that occur at places like Talladega. NASCAR will be investigating how exactly that happened, with the intention of figuring how to prevent it in the future.)
Certainly, this decision won't sit well with those who feel NASCAR already plays too fast and loose with driver safety. Many fans and media observers wanted Edwards parked for a race or the season, with some going to the absurd lengths like advocating criminal charges.
On the other hand, NASCAR had said that this would be a year in which the gloves would be off and drivers would be permitted to police themselves -- "Boys, have at it, and have fun," as NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton famously put it back in January.
So NASCAR was thus in a bind -- do they condone this kind of violent retaliation, or do they drop the hammer and negate the whole "have at it" philosophy?
The fundamental question in the wreck was whether the punishment should address the intent of the wreck, or the outcome. The intent was obvious; Edwards meant to screw up Keselowski's day by spinning him and denying him a top-10 finish. It's the kind of payback that happens all the time. The outcome, of course, was far beyond that, the kind of scary aerial maneuver that can end very, very badly.
The Edwards/Keselowski feud is now all square. But here's betting that the next driver to send somebody airborne isn't going to get off quite so easily.
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- Mike Helton