I was on the phone with one of my colleagues, the president of one of the bigger NASCAR Sprint Cup speedways, when word came down that NASCAR was going to penalize Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski after their latest run-in this past Saturday night.
Knowing my penchant for stirring the “pot-o-controversy,” he goaded me, saying, “Of all people, that’s got to tick you off. You love it when somebody wears the black hat. You have got to publicly disagree with NASCAR on this one.”
And I surprised him. “No,” I said. “NASCAR has to do something. You gotta pull the reins back every now and then. Racing is dangerous business. There’s a fine line between aggression and injury. Or worse. And nobody wants to see anybody get hurt.”
So NASCAR got it right. They hit Edwards – who was the aggressor – with a $25,000 fine, took 60 NASCAR Nationwide Series points away and placed him on probation until the end of the season. With Keselowski, who arguably raced a little harder than needed and perhaps precipitated Edwards’ action with a little of his own, was placed on probation until the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule. The Saturday night controversy occurred in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
It all started last year at Talladega, arguably the fastest, baddest, most dangerous race track in the world. The two got together on the last lap and Edwards car went airborne -- at almost 200 mph -- and could have been a terrible black eye for the sport. Edwards was uninjured, but it set the tone for the relationship.
In March, Edwards paid Keselowski back in Atlanta. And it was every bit as ugly. Keselowski’s car was upside down on top of the fence, again at almost 200 mph. Edwards admitted he simply wanted to spin Keselowski’s car across the grass and cause him a bad day. Instead, Keselowski flipped down the track, fortunate to be uninjured.
Then came the final lap of Saturday night’s race at Gateway. Keselowski leaned on Edwards going into the first turn of the final lap. Edwards turned Keselowski around coming off the fourth turn and took the win. But the cars behind the two, all trying to race for position, piled into Keselowski’s car. Pounding it. T-bones. Car after car damaged.
Fortunately no one was hurt. Lots of race cars were torn up. But now the rivalry involved others and it could have been very ugly. And neither driver expressed concern or shame, only making it clear that things happen sometimes. And it would probably happen again.
And that’s the point.
These are two of the toughest, go-for-broke, exciting drivers in the sport. It’s inevitable that they cross paths again and again.
But racing is an inherently dangerous sport.
I love the controversy. I love the drama. I love that the racing world has been standing on its feet since Saturday night. I love that people have taken sides. I love that the two drivers have made it clear that they are man enough for another battle. I love watching these two guys race. I love that controversy sells tickets better than anything. All of those are elements of a legitimate rivalry and promotion. As a promoter, perfect!
But I love calling both of them friend. And I want to do that for many years to come.
NASCAR had no choice. It’s time for them to settle down … just a little bit.
Yeah, I know. I may be the chief cook when it comes to controversy in the NASCAR kitchen. But common sense has to reign occasionally.
I surprised you on that one.