Posted on | March 10, 2010 | 5 Comments
NASCAR may regret relaxing the rules regarding aggressive driving on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit.
While we have been witness to retaliatory “strikes” between drivers over the years, few were as glaring as the one that occurred at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 7th. Carl Edwards, behind by a mere 153 laps in the Kobalt Tools 500 Race, returned to get his “pound of metal.” During the closing laps of the race and at speed, Carl Edwards deliberately drove his Ford Fusion into the rear quarter-panel on Brad Keselowki’s Dodge Charger R/T which sent Brad Keselowski hurtling roof-first into the wall. It was a crash that race fans are all too accustomed to seeing. It was a scene that I believe race fans, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, and all drivers are starting to take for granted.
The amazing level of safety that these race cars afford drivers is almost beyond comprehension. With only the fewest exceptions, drivers walking away from horrendous wrecks is the rule, not the exception, as I’m sure Brad Keselowski will attest. Frankly, I believe that this reality was partly behind the decision of NASCAR to return to “old school” racing styles which saw bump-drafting, fender grinding, and race track road rage as normal. Only four races into the season and many are questioning the decision. In the video below it is clear:
The “wrist slap” penalty of a 3-race probationary period for Carl Edwards isn’t going to help put down the debate. The problem as I see it is that the rule changes that allows the racers to take matters into their own hands in this manner is akin to the oft-debated, never resolved issue of fighting in hockey. The one glaring difference between the two – in hockey one of the combatants won’t be careening into a wall at 150 miles per hour or more. In hockey, other players won’t be at risk of crash and potentially serious injury. It’s unlikely that sticks, helmets, and pucks are going to be flying into the seats when participants let their emotions dictate dangerous reactions. Not so in the world of high speed auto racing. In the world of auto racing, the penalty for such an infraction isn’t a 5-minute major penalty and a seat in the penalty box. It’s a destroyed vehicle and the potential for serious injury and even death.
There are few of us, in today’s economic climate, who cannot understand that an organization such as NASCAR has to take steps to keep the finances flowing. In the wake of sponsors cutting back on their spending, abandoning their sponsorship efforts altogether, backsliding attendance and declining television ratings – is this the outcome that NASCAR wants in its “return to the roots” of racing?
“It’s time for us to allow the drivers to drive,” [Bill] France said. “We don’t want the rules and regulations to get in the way of great racing and fantastic finishes.
“NASCAR is a contact sport. Our history is based on banging fenders.”
That may be so, but this series has also seen its fair share of death even as safety has dramatically increased over the course of history. I’d like to believe that the head of NASCAR, Bill France, Jr., considered the potentially steep consequences of returning to such dangerous roots. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the occasional temper flare-up. I enjoy the bumping and grinding. I didn’t enjoy what Carl Edwards did to Brad Keselowski on Sunday. It was cheap. It was uncalled for.
Regardless of the history between Carl Edwards and Bill Keselowski, a 3-race probation penalty is, in my opinion, far too lenient for a guy whose sole purpose on Sunday was to deliberately put another driver (and others) in significant danger. He was down 153 laps. Carl Edwards had nothing to gain from returning to the track that far removed from contention. Carl Edwards sole purpose was to use his vehicle as a weapon against another human being. And, given Keselowski’s frequency of involvement in race crashes, maybe he needs to be disciplined as well. I certainly won’t say this guy is devoid of criticism.
Perhaps I’m applying a “real world” mentality to something that is an “acceptable part of NASCAR racing” – you know, just like fighting is an acceptable part of hockey. I’ll beg forgiveness for believing that it looks like it is going to take a death for NASCAR to reconsider the relaxation of these rules and impose a penalty that fits the crime.
I see some regrets on the horizon. I believe we’re all taking the safety of these race cars and drivers for granted. Let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment.