Ingram's Flat Spot On
Edwards Falls Short Again
by Jonathan Ingram
It's gut check time for Carl Edwards.
The reaction from fans and media to Edwards' turning of Brad Keselowski into the wall as the two approached the checkered flag at the Nationwide Series race in Madison, Ill., is running heavily against him. Fans appreciate a guy who hates to lose. They hate a guy who can't accept the fact he got beat.
Since Sprint Cup rookie Keselowski beat Edwards at Talladega in the spring of last year, the Ford driver has seen nothing but the red mist around the younger driver.
Keselowski does push the issue often enough to raise hackles among a variety of veterans. In the Sprint Cup, he's just this side of sophomore Joey Logano in that department. But unlike Logano, Keselowski, who grew up in a stock car racing family, appears to have a better understanding of the fine line between hard racing and unacceptable racing.
Unlike most veterans, Edwards seems to fail to understand the fine line between payback in kind and deliberate and dangerous cheap shots like the one taken on the front straight at the Gateway International Raceway to win Saturday's Nationwide race. The incident tore up a lot of equipment among the competitors headed for the checkered flag behind him and luckily ended without serious injury.
For those who like to recall intimidation tactics by Dale Earnhardt Sr., the latter would have never let another driver rattle him so badly and so consistently.
Edwards complains that Keselowski keeps putting him in a bad position. If he told that to the drivers who are in NASCAR's Hall of Fame -- or on their way -- they might have a good laugh. The sport of stock car racing is all about putting your fellow competitor in a bad enough position that a pass is all but inevitable.
"The way it went, he bumped me and he finished wherever he finished and I still won the race," said Edwards afterwards. "That's the only way I could see the race turning out fair."
This is the second in what is now a series of dangerous cheap shots versus Keselowski. Edwards' "chump and run" moves are distinguished by the fact that any driver, any where, on any track, in any series could do the same thing. That's why it's gut check time for Edwards. He needs to stop taking pride in turning motor racing into the lowest common denominator.
That's a long way from being an intimidator.
It's worth noting that there was calculation by Edwards when he nearly sent Keselowski's Dodge into the grandstands in Atlanta during the Sprint Cup race in March. It's not likely he would have done it had Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth been leading, thus forcing a teammate into a green-white-checkered finish.
At Gateway, Edwards knew that in a different series he would not face the same post-race management as in the Sprint Cup, allowing him more leeway despite a second high-speed run-in with Keselowski. He needs to spend more time calculating that stock car racing is not a sport masquerading as a personal vendetta; rather that it's actually a sport.
Meanwhile, back at the NASCAR Nationwide Series hauler, it's also gut check time. Too often the management of the understudy series in NASCAR comes off as imitation Sprint Cup. There's a vague effort to imagine how situations would be handled instead of recognizing that the minor leagues are also about management learning to make big league decisions.
In this case, Edwards needs to be given a clear message that it's time for him to learn about paybacks in kind rather than search and destroy missions. This includes learning to save paybacks after a bump and run for somewhere down the road when the need is timely, the better part of wisdom in a championship chase if your chief rival is the one in debt to you.
In case Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash needs to be reminded, the last lap in NASCAR has always been no holds barred -- as long as a driver is trying to win the race. That's what Keselowski attempted in Turn 1. Edwards was trying to deliberately wreck his competitor on the straightaway at the flagstand.
At least Earnhardt Sr. had the decency to wreck himself along with Darrell Waltrip on a short track in their infamous meeting at Richmond in 1986. His unexpected and unpredictable move literally cracked Waltrip's psyche that day and helped make the next decade his own. In Gateway on Saturday night the move by Edwards was sadly predictable and the fissures in confidence all seemed to belong to him.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org