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Wednesday, July 21, 2010
With Edwards, NASCAR gets it right

By David Newton
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- NASCAR had no choice but to punish Carl Edwards.

Letting him get away with intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Speedway would have returned the sport to the Wild West, where it was all right to shoot your neighbor if he stole your horse.

Allowing his act to go without consequences would have created a "have at it, boys" chaos that likely would end with somebody in a hospital -- or maybe worse.

Yes, NASCAR got it right when it docked Edwards 60 driver points and fined him $25,000 on Wednesday. Putting both drivers on probation until Dec. 31 wasn't a bad move, either, considering this had the potential to become explosive not only in the Nationwide Series but in Sprint Cup, too.

Nobody should consider this a blow to the "have at it" edict that the governing body delivered in January, an attempt to loosen the reins and let the drivers take more control of policing the sport in hopes that it would increase ratings and attendance.

Even in the most dysfunctional families, somebody occasionally has to step in and restore order.

It was time to restore order.

It was time for NASCAR's Brian France, Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and John Darby to draw a line in the sand and say, "Don't cross it." It was time to let curious drivers, as four-time champion Jeff Gordon questioned Tuesday, know "what's too much?"

Now he knows.

Everybody does.

Officials shouldn't feel guilty for their decision. They should be able to make these calls without feeling they are turning off fans who grew up believing rubbin' is racin'.

I know you're going for a win and everything is fine, but hooking someone in the right rear down the straightaway … I probably wouldn't have reacted as kindly as Brad did. I probably would have walked down there and punched him in the mouth.

-- Kevin Harvick

What Edwards did wasn't rubbin'. It was ridiculous.

Even his peers think so. Denny Hamlin tweeted that the incident was "dirty, just dirty" and that he was surprised Edwards was allowed to keep the victory.

Kevin Harvick was equally harsh Sunday night on the Speed Channel.

"I know you're going for a win and everything is fine, but hooking someone in the right rear down the straightaway ... I probably wouldn't have reacted as kindly as Brad did," Harvick said. "I probably would have walked down there and punched him in the mouth.

"I just think that's way, way out of bounds, as far as hooking somebody in the middle of the straightaway."

Gordon said Edwards was "out of line."

"Just looking at the incidents, looked to me like Brad got into him a little bit getting into [Turn] 1 but was just racing hard for the position, for the win," he said. "Then what Carl did I felt like was definitely out of line. I felt like it was over and above what needed to be done."

NASCAR didn't quickly make its decision -- officials took most of three days to reach a conclusion.

Fan opinion varied greatly. Some of you wanted the win taken away. Others wanted Edwards suspended for the rest of the Nationwide season. Others wanted him to sit for at least a race in Nationwide and Cup.

Some wanted him tarred and feathered.

The punishment certainly had to be more than the three-race probation Edwards was placed on after sending Keselowski airborne in the Cup race at Atlanta earlier this year. Had that delivered the message, we wouldn't be where we are today.

A suspension likely would have been too harsh, although when such a blatant act like this occurs in other sports that often is the result.

In 2008, Houston Rockets guard Rafer Alston and Phoenix Suns forward Matt Barnes were suspended for two games each after being involved in a shoving match. Steve Nash received a one-game suspension for what the league called "escalating the altercation."

Isn't what Edwards did just as bad or worse?

During the 2009-10 season, Carolina Panthers defensive back Dante Wesley was suspended for one game by the NFL without pay for an illegal hit against Tampa Bay punt returner Clifton Smith.

Isn't what Edwards did just as bad or worse?

Earlier this year, the NHL suspended Washington's Mike Green for three games for delivering a brutal elbow to the head of Dallas' Michael Frolik.

Isn't what Edwards did just as bad or worse?

At least the suspended player's action hurt the one player it was intended to hurt in the other incidents. Edwards triggered a multicar wreck that left seven or eight innocent bystanders with thousands of dollars in damaged goods. It cost other drivers a solid finish, as well as the prize money and points that go with it.

Had NASCAR not stepped in, any one of them might have felt the freedom to retaliate against Edwards in the same manner Edwards wrecked Keselowski. Any one of them could have created a situation that would have put more innocent bystanders, maybe even fans, in danger.

"Just how racers go about it, they log that in the back of their mind, and there's going to be a time and a day," Gordon said. "The payback might not necessarily be the same thing that was handed down to you. It could be something different.

"You're usually going to try to make life miserable for them or do something that is considered necessarily payback that takes away either points or a good finish or makes for a bad day or tears up a race car. Could be a lot of things."

Now at least Keselowski and others will think twice, already feeling some sort of vindication by the penalty.

Now at least some order has been restored.

That doesn't mean drivers shouldn't continue to have at it. They just need to know there are limits.

Now they do.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.