Sticking with its "boys, have at it" attitude, NASCAR placed Carl Edwards on three-race probation Tuesday for his deliberate wreck with Brad Keselowski in last weekend’s race at Atlanta. The punishment means Edwards will still be able to race in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, but will be monitored by NASCAR through the April 10 race at Phoenix.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said Edwards’ action Sunday at Atlanta was "not acceptable," but did not cross the line in what the sanctioning body will allow this season. NASCAR vowed in January to give the drivers more leeway in policing themselves and settling their own scores in an effort to re-energize the sport through more emotion.
"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 intent on wrecking his car. He tried for at least one lap before succeeding with three laps to go, giving Keselowski a nudge that sent his car airborne. It banged hood-first off a retaining wall before flipping back onto its wheels. No one was hurt.
Helton said NASCAR is standing behind its "have at it" attitude.
"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 — drift 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!!!!"
But 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 separated the accident into two issues: Edwards’ action, and the fact that Keselowski went airborne. The more serious of the two, in NASCAR’s opinion, is figuring out why Keselowski’s car took flight.
"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."