It will be a long time before Carl Edwards gets the horrifying image out of his head.
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The one of Brad Keselowski’s red Dodge pirouetting and flying through the air at Atlanta Motor Speedway, courtesy of contact from Edwards’ Ford.
As Edwards and Keselowski return to Atlanta this weekend, Edwards will not be able to get away from reminders of one of the ugliest incidents of his controversial career.
Images of Keselowski’s car flipping and of the blatant contact that caused the frightening crash will be played over and over in newspapers, on Web sites and on prerace shows this weekend, drudging up the scary incident all over again.
“I mean, it’s a spectacular result so I assume we’ll see that a lot for a long time,” Edwards conceded two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Since NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton uttered the infamous words, “Boys, have at it,” prior to the season, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series has featured one feud after another this year as drivers have indeed had at it.
None of the dust-ups have been uglier, however, than the Edwards-Keselowski tiff.
The two aggressive, hot-tempered drivers had their share of issues prior to the season, topped by Edwards’ own high-wire act last year at Talladega Superspeedway, when Keselowski sent his car flying into the fence during a mad dash to the checkered flag.
Edwards never got over that, nor did he forget the other run-ins with the brash, hard-charging Keselowski. When Keselowski bumped him and roughed him up at Atlanta in March, Edwards had had enough. He chased down Keselowski and delivered a shot heard – and seen – around the racing world.
NASCAR and its fans held their collective breath as Keselowski’s car spun, lifted off the ground and flipped down the straightaway at Atlanta. It was the most horrifying crash since Edwards flew into the fence at Talladega.
Fortunately, Keselowski was uninjured – just shocked and dazed, physically and emotionally.
As the young Keselowski called for NASCAR to come down hard on the culprit, Edwards had to deal with a PR nightmare, explaining over and over how he meant to wreck Keselowski but never intended for his car to get airborne. It’s a nightmare that haunts him to this day.
“It’s pretty amazing people give me all this credit that I knew exactly how to flip a car over at a track that a car has never flipped over like that before,” Edwards says.
“That turned into the worst-case scenario, or the most dramatic scenario, far from what I expected. It’s funny, if you look at this sport objectively, if you look at what’s going on sometimes in different situations, it’s pretty amazing how this same situation with the same set of circumstances can get twisted in so many ways depending on who is involved or what people say about it.”
Edwards rarely gets the benefit of the doubt anymore, and for good reason. Normally a mild-mannered, friendly guy, he has a powder keg of a temper and has damaged his reputation by lashing out at other drivers.
A feigned punch aimed at frightened teammate Matt Kenseth a few years ago was caught on camera, offering hints of Edwards’ temper. He marched into Victory Lane to confront popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a run-in in a Nationwide Series race at Michigan.
And after he and Kevin Harvick traded barbs over a wreck at Talladega two years ago, Edwards confronted Harvick in the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway and grabbed him by the throat, another scary episode that made Edwards look bad.
When he wrecked Keselowski on purpose at Atlanta, the fallout was predictable. Harvick, no stranger to confrontation and controversy himself, was quick to enter the fray, calling Edwards a “bully” and “fake” and starting another war of words with him.
Just when the Edwards-Keselowski feud was beginning to die down – thanks to their made-for-the-media pow-wow at Bristol two weeks after Atlanta – the two went at it again in a Nationwide race at Gateway International Raceway.
The ultra-aggressive Keselowski bumped Edwards out of the lead on the final lap, leading to another nasty incident. After losing the lead, Edwards chased down Keselowski and punted him again heading to the checkered flag.
While Edwards won the race, Keselowski’s car spun wildly, getting hit multiple times by other cars.
The incident infuriated Keselowski and his father, Bob, who accused Edwards of trying to kill his son and threatened to get even.
While NASCAR fined Edwards and placed both drivers on probation, Edwards’ image and reputation took another hit, with respected drivers and NASCAR personalities like Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett calling him out.
Now they head back to the scene of the crime – or Act I of the drama – and Edwards is once again defending himself.
“It’s really simple,” he said at Bristol. “I treat everyone the way they treat me. I’m not gonna let somebody take advantage of me. That’s all there is to it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone out and been the aggressor of a situation or a bully or anything like that, but I’m not gonna let somebody take advantage of me. You guys obviously have a lot of opinions about that, but the people who know me and know what I’m about, it makes pretty good sense to them, but, for some reason, I guess some people don’t like that or don’t understand it.”
So with reminders of their run-ins and budding feud fresh in everyone’s minds, how will Edwards approach the return to Atlanta?
“What I’m gonna do is, I’m just gonna go race my car as hard as I can and be the best person I can be just like I’ve always done and if people don’t understand that, that’s their problem,” he said.
“I did what I did and I did it for a damn good reason. I stand up and take responsibility for my actions and I’ve always done that, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the way it went.”
With both drivers on probation through the end of the year, Edwards and Keselowski likely will stay away from each other this weekend.
They have both caused enough trouble for one season.