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Sunday, July 18, 2010

You throw a rock, I'm gonna throw a concrete block: NASCAR Driver Feuds

At Talladega on April 26, 2009 Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were racing hard. Carl was in the lead with Brad tight on his back bumper. Coming through the tri-oval, Keselowski made his move. In tight traffic Carl blocked and Brad turned him. Carl's 99 AFLAC Ford wrecked into the outside wall sending pieces of the car into the stands and injuring seven fans. After the race, Carl had this to say "NASCAR just puts us in this box. Brad did a great job. Congrats to him on the win. But they put us in this box, and we'll race like this until we kill somebody, and then they'll change it. ... That's what Brad's supposed to do. He's assuming I know he's inside. It was so quick I didn't know he was inside. We saw what happened to Regan Smith. You can't go down below the yellow line or you lose the race. [Keselowski] was winning, and I was doing everything I could to keep him from"

Fast forward to the beginning of the 2010 season. NASCAR Officials told the teams that they wanted "more emotion" and NASCAR was going to let them sort out disagreements on the track. At Atlanta in March 2010 Brad comes up into Carl sending him into Joey Logano on lap 40. Late in the race, on lap 323 while 150 laps down Carl admittedly got into Brad on purpose. Brad's car went airborne at 190 mph; Carl was black flagged and drove down pit road backwards in defiance and was quoted later as saying "Brad is somebody who doesn't ever give me any room." At the end of the day NASCAR handed down a three race probation period for Edwards. The next three races were quiet, even as fans waited for the next installment of Carl vs. Brad. Carl served his probation without incident.

And then we have last night. The Nationwide Series Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway, located just east of St. Louis, MO, turned out to be a wilder night than any of us expected, I think. Restart with two to go. Carl and Brad up front. Fans were practically holding their collective breath as the two raced around the oval at Gateway. Both had great cars and were obviously the two best cars out there last night. The Green lap went without incident...and then the white flag waved.

Keselowski bumped Edwards in turn one, Edwards got sideways and saved it. Edwards kept the lead until the backstretch when Brad edged in front of him. By the time they passed through turn four Brad was clearly ahead of Carl. Out of turn four, all fans are on their feet, and Carl jams his front left into the back of Brad. Brad spins, hits the outside wall and comes back down the track. Keselowski gets slammed by Shelby Howard sending Brad's car spinning and shrapnel flies as the car breaks apart. Edwards continues to the win, asking his crew chief "Is he Okay?" on the radio. Brad walks away from the wreck and is taken to the infield care center to be checked out.

My first thoughts were that Carl saved it when Brad bumped him, whereas Brad lost it after the last hit. After watching the last lap again, I have to say that Carl did hit Brad harder than a "bump". The front corner of Carl's car was mangled from the hit. There was no visible damage to the front of Brad's car after the turn one hit. Could a more experienced driver have saved it and not wrecked after the hit that Carl gave Brad? Maybe. Could Carl have won the race without taking Brad out? Maybe. Was the retaliation hit justified? Depends on who you listen to.

Bob Keselowski was obviously in the unjustified camp. His post-race interviewed showed a man who was so angry that he was shaking and near tears. His claim that Carl is trying to kill Brad was way overboard, however. Had Carl been trying to kill or even hurt Brad the second thing out of Carl's mouth after the win would not have been "Is he Okay?" but more like "Did I finish him?" or "Tell me he's not walking out of that". Bob Keselowski's statement that Carl "tried to kill the kid" and that he wants to put on his "damn uniform and take care of this" was kind of the pot calling the kettle black after Bob said Carl overreacted. It's racing. Last lap racing, at that.

It's not the first feud that Brad has been a part of. Keselowski spun Denny Hamlin at Phoenix last year in another retaliation move. Denny had tapped Brad and Brad got into Denny in an admitted retaliation move. Brad has this to say about that incident "On the last restart there, Denny got into the back of me and pushed me up the track I was going to return the favor. When he did it to me, I saved it. When I did it to him, he didn't save it. We just got into a pushing match. I don't really don't hold any grudges. I don't know why he wanted to do that. But whatever, that's just how racing is, I guess." That's how racing is pretty much sums it up. Drivers beat and bang on one another on the track. One bang turns into another, a bump gets out of control, and pretty soon you have a pile of cars wrecking on the track.

History shows many driver feuds, retaliation for bumps, and statements that drivers make showing intentional hits - some on the track, others off the track. At the end of the 1979 Daytona 500 Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough had a physical fight on the apron after a wreck involving Donnie Allison and Yarborough that ended a chance to win for both drivers. Bobby Allison said after the fight that if he hadn't gotten in there with Cale he would have been "running from Cale Yarborough the rest of" his life. Turning the other cheeks isn't something that happens in NASCAR. Drivers settle disagreements as soon as they can, in any way they can, usually on-track, and usually ending in wrecked race cars.

Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer had a two-year long feud that started at Phoenix in 2001 and was finished in 2003 when Spencer wrecked Busch. During one installment of that feud, Kurt revved his engine in front of Jimmy's hauler in a taunting gesture. Spencer was not amused, rammed Kurt's car, and reportedly punched Kurt in the face. 2005 saw sparks between Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek. Tony Stewart had gotten into the back of Nemechek who then got into Harvick. Retaliation move? Harvick throws his restraint device at Nemechek's car and shoves him  after the race.

Edwards and Matt Kenseth were involved in a teammate's feud in 2007. An on-camera argument that involved pushing and a feigned punch by Edwards occurred after several on-track incidents at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon shoved Matt Kenseth after the spring race at Bristol in 2006 when Kenseth had taken out Gordon after being knocked out of the lead by Kyle Busch. Track officials had to separate Jeff and Matt. After an on-track incident between Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, Denny may have stated it best when he said "You throw a rock, I'm gonna throw a concrete block." Retaliation in NASCAR isn't ever even. It gets bigger with each move.

As it stands now, still isn't showing final results for Gateway. The results on the race page are showing as "Unofficial." Are they thinking of taking the win away from Carl? Will there be another probation period for him? A suspension? Kevin Harvick's experience in 2003 proved that NASCAR will suspend a driver from Cup racing for actions in the lower-level series'. Harvick had gotten physical with Greg Biffle after a Bristol race then two weeks later slammed into Coy Gibbs' truck during a Trucks Series race resulting in a one race NASCAR suspension, keeping Harvick out of the race at Martinsville. Will Carl's actions at last night's Nationwide Gateway race keep him out of the Brickyard 400 in seven days? If not, Keselowski, Edwards, and the NASCAR fans should be in for a hell of a ride next week, as the two drivers' paths should cross more than one in Indy.

Photo Credits
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Photo 4: Washington Post (online)

1 comment:

  1. great and exciting rtace in StLouis adnd thats what the fans come for. The degree of bumping or shoving another car is getting to be a fine line issue. The bad news is that Carl bumps Brad and it always seems to be some real spectacular wreck or bad luck for Brad or is is Carl that has the bad luck? Brad looked like he was overdriving when he spun out on pit road and then running out of brakes- he sais Carl was doing a better job by downshifting. It really keeps it interesting and the fans coming back for more and this was Nationwide!