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Jay Busbee

Without a doubt, Carl Edwards got preferential treatment

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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Imagine for a second if it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. flying through the evening Atlanta air Sunday night instead of Brad Keselowski.

Imagine if it was a start-and-parker who sent Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson airborne with a deliberate tap to the bumper.

Still think we'd be talking about a three-race probation?

When NASCAR handed down its penalty for Edwards on Tuesday -- three races of probation, the equivalent of being told "I'll let you go this time, but next time, mister, next time ... " -- reaction was immediate and split right down the middle. Some fans and media indicated they were satisfied with the punishment (particularly the media who made sure to pat themselves on the back at how right they were in guessing the sentencing). Others screamed that this was far too weak of a punishment for such a violent act of retaliation.

But those were the fans. Let's look at some of the drivers' reactions, via Twitter (all responses sic'd]:

Robby Gordon: Just heard the news. I wonder what would of happened to me in that situation? Hmmm someone playing favorites? :)

Kevin Harvick: huh! suprised by the penalty lack there of ... i'm thinkging about asking for a refund for all of my penalties!!!!

Kyle Busch (responding to Harvick): Me too! Let me kno how that goes. Lmao.

Regan Smith: Gotta say I think NASCAR handled the situation the right way, glad 2 c they ackowledged the car getting airborne is the biggest issue

Kyle Petty: For me I am deeply saddened by the decision that #NASCAR made on this issue. I love this Business,will always support it, but not this...

Many other drivers, including Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler, expressed a desire to find out exactly why Keselowski's car flipped and declined direct comment on the punishment.

Clearly, though, there's a sentiment that Edwards got off easy, possibly because of his burgeoning "golden boy" status in NASCAR. (As Delana Harvick, Kevin's wife, put it on her own page: "i can't understand what a 3-race probation actually does. maybe @kevinharvick should awe shucks more. seems to work.")

And you know what? He did get off easy. If it had been someone else other than a controversial rookie flying through the air, if it had been a less notable driver causing the wreck, you can bet the hammer would have hit harder.

But Edwards is the new face of NASCAR, a guy with nearly as many commercials as Dale Earnhardt Jr., and you can expect him to be carrying much of the public-face load the closer Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon get to retirement. After his own wreck at Talladega last year, Edwards visited everyone from Ellen Degeneres to Larry King; think that'll happen with Keselowski?

NASCAR, like every other enterprise, is a celebritocracy; the brighter lights get the biggest breaks. In this instance, Edwards may well have sweet-talked his way into a lighter punishment. If Robby Gordon were to do the same thing, we'd be looking at a ten-race suspension. Is it fair? No. But it's the way of the world.

Hopefully the rest of NASCAR's celebrity elite won't be trying the same moves as Carl. "Could have been hurt" is a lot easier to blow off than "was hurt."

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