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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