Sunday’s incident between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards during the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was not a product of bad blood from Talladega last year. It also didn’t have much to do with the contact between Edwards and Keselowski on lap 40 during the race that ended Edwards’s chance of winning. What caused this incident was Keselowski’s driving style.
After today’s incident, some media members wanted to compare it to the wreck between these two drivers at Talladega last year, indicating that the Talladega wreck might have led to some bad blood between these two. But, that was not the case.
At Talladega, Edwards tried to block Keselowski and Keselowski held his line. After the wreck, Edwards said that Keselowski did what he had to do to win. He didn’t seem upset or angry. He (and Keselowski) knew it was a racing deal. I believe that they moved on.
On lap 40 during Sunday’s race, Edwards was battling three-wide with Keselowski and Joey Logano on a restart. He tried to get to the bottom of the track in front of Keselowski, and the two made contact. Edwards hit Logano and the wall.
After the wreck, Edwards watched the replay. He said that he felt that Keselowski didn’t give him room, but Edwards also seemed to take a lot of the blame after seeing the replay. He mentioned that Keselowski’s actions didn’t look as bad on the replay as he thought they were.
If this had been a driver like Jeff Burton or Mark Martin, Edwards would have shrugged it off and moved on. Drivers like Burton and Martin are respected because they race clean. It’s very out of character for them to punt someone or race hard early on. So, if something like the contact on lap 40 were to happen, drivers believe them when they say they tried to lift. They’ve earned the respect to be taken at their word and given the benefit of the doubt.
Keselowski has not earned that. Since taking over the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevy in the Nationwide Series, he has enjoyed success thanks in large part to his aggressive driving style. But, in obtaining that success he has also developed a reputation for racing drivers especially hard early. Just ask Denny Hamlin.
In Nationwide, this is understandable because the races are shorter and usually feature less-experienced drivers. Drivers want to stay up front to be there in the end and to avoid wrecks. But, in Sprint Cup, things are different. The races are much longer, and the drivers expect respect. They expect give and take, at least early in the race.
I understand that Keselowski wants to prove he belongs in Sprint Cup. He wants to make a name for himself by showing that he’s not intimidated by anyone because he can run with anyone. But, eventually your driving style catches up with you. And Sunday, his did.
Like I said, had it been Martin or Burton, this wreck wouldn’t have happened. But because it was Keselowski, a driver known for being aggressive early, Edwards didn’t believe he tried to lift (as Keselowski said after the race). Edwards wanted to send him a message. Edwards wanted to teach him some respect.
When a driver has earned the respect of others drivers, he tends to get the benefit of the doubt. And, the drivers take him at his word. Keselowski hasn’t earned that in part because of his actions and in part due to his lack of time in Sprint Cup. So, drivers don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they look at his actions on the track. And in Keselowski’s case, they see an overly aggressive, rookie driver.
So, when the opportunity presented itself to wreck Keselowski, Edwards took it. With two laps to go, Edwards bumped Keselowski, who was running sixth at the time, at the start/finish line. Keselowski’s car flipped into the outside wall before coming to rest on its wheels.
Don’t get me wrong, Edwards was not justified in what he did. He put Keselowski and fans in danger by choosing to retaliate. But, he had no idea Keselowski’s car would lift off the ground. Still, he should know better than anyone that the car is capable of flipping, and he should have known it was possible for Keselowski to flip.
After the incident, NASCAR parked Edwards for the remainder of the race. Keselowski, however, didn’t think that was enough. He called for Edwards to be suspended for one race. I think a suspension would be inappropriate.
If NASCAR suspends Edwards it would be because Keselowski flipped, not because Edwards retaliated. If NASCAR suspended every driver who retaliated, regardless of what happened, then I would agree with a suspension. But, because they don’t, I don’t think they should just because Keselowski flipped. It would be absurd to suspend someone for the one part of the incident they couldn’t control.