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Analysis: NASCAR sends out mixed message with Carl Edwards penalty

By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Suspension? Fine? Points penalty?

Are you kidding?

NASCAR doled out none of the above to Carl Edwards for intentionally — and with malice aforethought — wrecking Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Keselowski’s Dodge flipped upside-down, slammed into the outside wall in the tri-oval at the 1.54-mile racetrack, landed on its roof and eventually turned upright before sliding into the wall in Turn 1. So spectacular was the crash that it earned prominent placement on ABC’s national newscast.

What Edwards earned seems trivial by comparison—probation for three races.

NASCAR president Mike Helton announced NASCAR’s stance on the wreck in a video teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

The immediate impression was the sanctioning body was more concerned with the fact Keselowski’s car became airborne at an intermediate racetrack than with the vindictive act that triggered the wreck.

"It’s important for all of us to step back and separate the issue of what happened with the 99 (of Edwards) and 12 (of Keselowski) on the race track and the fact that the 12 car went airborne. We've not seen a car get airborne much on the mile-and-a-half race track, and that's something that is very important to us, and we want to study very closely to figure out things that we can do to help prevent this very quickly in the future.

"This is a very important element of all of this that I would ask all of us to be reminded of the fact of the car getting airborne was a very serious issue. And that's something that we'll take a look at very quickly and try to figure out how to help prevent that happening in the future."

Helton also pointed out that NASCAR had parked Edwards after the incident, a penalty rendered inconsequential by Edwards’ absence from the race for more than 150 laps after contact with Keselowski’s car on Lap 40 initiated a crash that crippled Edwards’ Ford.

If nothing else, NASCAR was consistent in its disposition of the Edwards/Keselowski matter, choosing to let the drivers settle their differences. One would hope, however, that viewing the severity of the No. 12 car’s crash—either first-hand or on replay—will have a chilling effect on drivers contemplating retaliation in the future.

There are those who might say Carl is fortunate to have the last name "Edwards," rather than the last name "Long." You’ll recall that NASCAR suspended Carl Long for 12 races last May and fined his crew chief $200,000 for bringing an engine to the Sprint All-Star Race that was .17 cubic inches above the legal limit of 358.

Long was docked 200 driver points, a NASCAR record. His wife and car owner, DeeDee Long, was penalized 200 owner points — all for an infraction that, from all indications, was unintentional.

"Just heard the news," came a tweet from Robby Gordon, who has felt the heavier side of NASCAR justice. "I wonder what would have happened to me in that situation. Hmmm, someone playing favorites?"

In fact, drivers lit up with a broad range of opinion.

"I’m thinking about asking for a refund for all my penalties," wrote Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick.

Kasey Kahne supported NASCAR’s position. "Doesn’t sound like favorites to me," he wrote in response to Gordon’s tweet. "Airborne is the biggest and only issue. I like Helton’s call."

Michael Waltrip echoed Kahne’s sentiment. "Good call, NASCAR," Waltrip wrote. "You can’t ask the drivers to take the gloves off one week and tell ’em to put ’em back on the next."

Whatever the case, Edwards will go to Bristol for the Nationwide/Cup weekend March 20-21 as a potential target for any other driver who wants to settle a score.

You have to wonder whether NASCAR’s leniency really did Edwards any favors. The same message he received Tuesday also went to every other driver in the field.

And they’re not on probation.