NASCAR slaps Edwards’ wrist, crosses fingers

NASCAR won’t park Carl Edwards for purposefully wrecking rival Brad Keselowski on Sunday – a clip to the bumper that sent Keselowski and his car airborne before landing on its roof.

“We made it very clear to [Edwards] that these actions were not acceptable,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said in a teleconference Tuesday announcing a meager three-race probation. “We believe [Edwards] understands our position at this point.”

And with that wrist slap – if being put on probation for three races is even that – the “boys, have at it” era in NASCAR is in full effect. But as potentially reckless as such a policy is, it’s precisely what NASCAR could use at this point.

The stock-car circuit has been plagued by dwindling interest, plummeting attendance and sagging television ratings the last few years. The shine has worn off what was once hailed as the nation’s fastest-growing sport. There’s little question the series got too dull, the drivers too corporate and the racing too predictable.

In January, Helton boldly stated that things were changing when he essentially relaxed the rules for the kind of frontier justice and retaliatory wrecks that the sport was built upon.

“There’s an age-old saying in NASCAR, ‘If you ain’t rubbing, you ain’t racing,’ ” Helton said in January. “I think that’s what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect.”

Or as NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton put when discussing a different rule change, “Boys, have at it, and have a good time.”

This is a dangerous game the circuit is playing, one that could backfire with serious injury or even death. That’s their gamble. Many racers would prefer the chance to settle their differences on the track and bristled in recent years at the repeated trips to the NASCAR hauler for postrace discipline. NASCAR heard the complaints – or saw the empty seats – and made a move.

Edwards tested NASCAR’s new policy to the fullest Sunday, the season’s fourth race. Early on in the event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he and Keselowski made contact, enough that Edwards had to go to the garage for repairs. When he returned to the track, he was 156 laps down. With just three laps to go in the race and Keselowski fighting for a top-five finish, Edwards smacked Keselowski’s back bumper and sent him flying.

It was a wild, frightening wreck. Keselowski could’ve been seriously injured. Had NASCAR suspended Edwards, there wouldn’t be much room for argument. First off, he ruined the end of the race (where Juan Pablo Montoya was trying to reel in eventual winner Kurt Busch) and afterwards didn’t even pretend it was an “accident.”

“My options: Considering that Brad wrecks me with no regard for anyone’s safety or hard work, should I: A) Keep letting him wreck me? B) Confront him after the race? C) Wait til Bristol and collect other cars? or D) Take care of it now?” Edwards wrote on his Facebook page.

“I want to be clear that I was surprised at his flight and very relieved when he walked away,” Edwards continued. “Every person has to decide what code they want to live by and hopefully this explains mine.”

So there you go – hard-core retaliation at 190 miles per hour.

Brad Keselowski was fighting for a top-five finish when he was hit.
(Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

And NASCAR doesn’t seem too upset about it.

“We were willing to put more responsibility in the hands of the driver,” Helton said Tuesday. “But there is a line you can cross and we will step in and restore law and order if we think that line is crossed.”

And where exactly is that line?

“I think we see it when we see it,” Helton said.

Helton tried to make a big deal about “parking” Edwards immediately after the incident in Atlanta, but it was hardly a penalty considering how many laps down Edwards was. And the three-race probation is essentially nothing.

Helton’s idea on how to end the feud is to have “the two drivers talk it out.” Maybe at the end everyone can have lemonade.

The entire Helton teleconference on Tuesday was pretty comical. Diane Sawyer’s interest in the story was mentioned and “Inside Edition” was even on hand to ask a question.

By the end, the message was pretty clear: Keep banging, keep fighting and keep retaliating. NASCAR wants to return to its roots – wants to bring back the don’t-miss-a-lap action that made it so popular in the first place.

So have at it, boys. Keep watching, fans. And let’s all hope no one gets hurt.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Mar 9, 2010