NASCAR puts Carl Edwards on probation for 3 races

Sticking with its “boys, have at it” attitude, NASCAR won’t

force Carl Edwards to miss any races after he deliberately wrecked

Brad Keselowski’s car last weekend in Atlanta.

Edwards will be on probation for three races and monitored by

NASCAR through the April 10 race at Phoenix but may drive in the

Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said Edwards acted unacceptably

Sunday but did not cross the line in what the sanctioning body will

allow this season. NASCAR promised in January to give the drivers

more leeway in policing themselves and settling scores in an effort

to energize the sport.

“We made it very clear to (Edwards) that these actions were not

acceptable and did go beyond what we said back in January about

putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers,” Helton

said. “We believe (Edwards) understands our position at this

point.”

There had been a strong call from fans and analysts for NASCAR

to suspend Edwards, who returned to the track down 153 laps from an

earlier accident with Keselowski and intent on wrecking his car. He

tried for at least one lap before succeeding with three laps to go,

nudging Keselowski’s car and sending it airborne. The car banged

hood-first off a retaining wall before flipping back onto its

wheels. No one was hurt.

Keselowski supported NASCAR’s decision.

“They are not in an enviable position when it comes to these

matters, but they do an outstanding job,” he said in a statement,

adding it was unfortunate the accident overshadowed Penske Racing

teammate Kurt Busch’s victory.

Edwards acknowledged his action was intentional but said he was

surprised by Keselowski’s car taking flight. Because NASCAR

approved greater driver leeway before the season, a severe

punishment for Edwards most likely would have quashed the “have at

it” attitude after the first test.

The decision to lighten up after years of penalizing drivers for

minor infractions – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was once punished for

cursing on TV; Jeff Gordon was placed on probation for shoving Matt

Kenseth – was in large part due to increased fan excitement created

by some 2009 feuds.

Denny Hamlin had a monthslong dispute with Keselowski, an

aggressive young driver who has made no apologies for banging

fenders with established veterans. Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo

Montoya played retaliatory bumper-cars in the season finale at

Homestead.

Helton said the day after the finale that NASCAR had perhaps

gone too far in sterilizing the competition and acknowledged that

more emotion and personality could benefit the sport. The “have at

it” era was announced less than two months later, and Helton was

not backing down Tuesday.

“The clear message, I think, we sent in January was that we

were willing to put more responsibility in the hands of the

driver,” he said. “But there is a line you can cross and we’ll

step in to maintain law and order when we think that line’s

crossed.”

Just what is that line?

“I think we see it when we see it,” he replied.

Clint Bowyer, participating in a Goodyear tire test at

Darlington, disagreed with NASCAR’s assessment.

“I think there’s a too far in everything and that was too far.

Bottom line. Simple as that,” Bowyer said. “That was a pretty

scary incident that could’ve been a lot worse.”

The fairly lenient punishment – many view probation as a slap on

the wrist – drew swift and mixed reaction from drivers who jumped

to their Twitter accounts during Helton’s 20-minute

announcement.

“Huh!” wrote Kevin Harvick, who was suspended one race in 2002

for insubordination – he parked his truck at the door of the NASCAR

hauler when he was summoned to discuss rough driving at

Martinsville.

“I’m thinking about asking for a refund for all of my

penalties!!!!”

Scott Speed and Michael Waltrip applauded NASCAR’s decision.

“You can’t ask the driver to take their gloves off one week and

then tell em to put ’em back on the next,” Waltrip wrote.

Helton said NASCAR saw two distinct parts to the accident:

Edwards’ action and Keselowski’s car going airborne. The more

serious of the two, in NASCAR’s opinion, is figuring out why

Keselowski’s car acted as it did.

“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,” Helton said. “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.”

AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report from

Darlington, S.C.

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