No matter where you stand on the Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski feud, the incident spotlighted at least three indisputable facts.
Both drivers got lucky.
Both drivers learned a valuable lesson.
There is no single correct point of view when it comes to NASCAR’s new “Boys, Have At It” approach to on-track conduct.
In terms of luck, Keselowski was fortunate to walk away from a crash that left the A (windshield) pillars of his Penske Dodge badly crushed and brought the roof on his car to a point at mid-windshield. Edwards was fortunate that his intentional takeout caused no injuries, either to Keselowski or anyone in the grandstands. One can only imagine the feeling in the pit of his stomach when he rolled past the shattered remains of the #12 Dodge and saw the aftermath of what was supposed to be a simple spin through the grass.
In the “lessons learned” department, Edwards almost certainly learned the importance of maintaining one’s composure at 180 mph, and the value of saving one’s paybacks for a more suitable venue like Bristol or Martinsville.
He also learned that white driving gloves can come back to haunt you in the aftermath of an ill-timed right turn on national television.
Keselowski, meanwhile, learned that every action produces some kind of response. While aggression is an important quality in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racer, the ability to properly time that aggression is also critical. Keselowski almost certainly grasps that concept better than he did two weeks ago.
He also learned that new kids on the NASCAR block are expected to spend a certain amount of time learning the ropes from their more-experienced peers before jumping lead-first into the deep end of the competitive pool. Nobody’s saying to pull over and wave `em by with 10 laps to go, but a little lift here and there when things get tight in the first half of a race puts a rookie driver in much better favor with his colleagues.
In terms of opinion, there was (and still is) no shortage of it in the aftermath of the Atlanta crash. The commentary ranged from “Edwards is a homicidal maniac who should have been charged with attempted vehicular homicide,” to “Keselowski’s a punk that had it coming” and virtually all points in between.
For better or worse, Keselowski’s profile among NASCAR fans is considerably higher than it was before the incident. And many fans say they see Edwards differently than they did just a few weeks ago, as well. Kevin Harvick summed it up best, saying, "The true colors are starting to show on the 99. The smile and the thumbs-up (aren’t) everything everyone perceives them to be.”
Edwards’ Atlanta sponsor, Scotts Lawn Care Products, even weighed in on the dispute, saying they do not want their driver to be involved in any more situations like the one Sunday in Atlanta. A statement on the company’s website said, “Scotts appreciates the support of NASCAR fans everywhere, and we have an excellent relationship with Carl Edwards, Jack Roush and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team. However, like many fans, we were very concerned about the on-track incident that occurred in Atlanta this past weekend. As a result, we have strongly expressed these concerns to both Carl and Jack and we are confident that they have a clear understanding of the trust we have placed in them as ambassadors of our company, our associates and our brands”
Edwards received three weeks' probation from NASCAR for his part in the incident, and team owner Roush said he is satisfied with the three-race probation assessed by NASCAR. “We are satisfied that NASCAR fairly considered all the circumstances in its decision to discipline Carl,” he said, adding that he looks forward to sitting down with NASCAR, Edwards, Keselowski and fellow team owner Roger Penske this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway in an effort to “put this behind us.”
Indeed, both drivers will join their car owners and crewchiefs in a mandatory “air clearing” session with NASCAR’s top brass prior to this weekend’s opening practice at Bristol. The specifics of that meeting will likely never be revealed publically, but those who have attended similar functions in the past say it is likely to be loud, profane and emotional, capped by a stern “Come To Jesus” statement from NASCAR that should prevent the situation from escalating any further.
In the end, the Great Crash of 2010 provided a much-needed promotional boost for the sport, a chunk of videotape that will be replayed for decades to come, a heaven-sent ticket selling opportunity for Bristol Motor Speedway and a hot new rivalry between two of NASCAR’s most marketable young drivers.
In the end, it could have been worse.