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If NASCAR fluffs off Sunday's incident and refuses to punish Carl Edwards severely, someone somewhere could die at a future event.
A harsh and uncomfortable thought, but entirely possible if Edwards' payback moment on Brad Keselowski goes unchecked.
NASCAR's judgment is coming in a day or two. Suspending Edwards for one race is the right thing to do.
Yes, I know all the wrong reasons why they won't do it: hypocrisy; Brad had it coming; you can't take a big-name driver out of the championship with a suspension.
No. 1 wrong reason -- Hypocrisy. How can NASCAR officials suspend a driver for a retaliatory move when six weeks ago they basically told them it was OK?
What Edwards did never is OK.
NASCAR chairman Brian France called NASCAR a contact sport. "We want to see drivers mixing it up," he added. That same January day, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said, "Boys, have at it."
So some will say Edwards simply was doing what NASCAR officials told him to do when he deliberately wrecked Keselowski, sending the car airborne and up into the Atlanta catch fence in front of the grandstands.
And if they didn't want him to do it, was he supposed to read their minds?
He didn't have to. The same day France and Pemberton said they were loosening things up, NASCAR president Mike Helton said, "It doesn't mean these guys have a get-out-of-jail-free card.''
If Edwards thought he had a free pass Sunday, I hope he's wrong.
These drivers aren't children. They know the limits. They know when they've gone too far. And Edwards knew it Sunday as he watched in his rearview as Brad's car turned over and flew before slamming back down on its roof.
"That was pretty wild," Edwards said on TV afterward. "No one could have predicted that. I'm glad he's OK. But now we [Keselowski and Edwards] probably won't have as many run-ins as we've had in the past."
And at what price?
"He about killed me and a couple of thousand people in the grandstands," Keselowski said afterward on TV. "It's one thing to race hard and get in an accident going for position. It's another thing to wreck someone intentionally at 195 miles per hour."
No. 2 wrong reason -- Brad had it coming.
No, he didn't.
Edwards was angry when he wrecked early in the race Sunday from a collision with Keselowski's car. Replays clearly show Edwards in the middle of the track, turning down into Brad's car, which was coming up behind Edwards.
Keselowski didn't do anything wrong, which Edwards seemed to acknowledge when he first saw the video replay a few minutes after he took his car to the garage.
"I went down to run the bottom, and it looks like [Keselowski] was there by an inch," Edwards said. "I really thought it was Brad's fault, but the replay doesn't look as malicious as I thought."
Apparently, Edwards changed his mind while sitting in the garage stewing for more than 100 laps as his car was being repaired. He returned to the track with a premeditated mission: Get Keselowski.
These two have a history, as anyone who saw the Talladega finish a year ago knows. That crash heading to the checkered flag was almost identical to Sunday's wreck, but Edwards was the man with the airborne car.
Seven people in the stands were injured when Edwards' Ford slammed into the catch fence as Keselowski was winning the race.
The crash was similar, but nothing else was. The two drivers were battling for the win on the last lap. There was no predetermined intent to wreck anyone.
Edwards was in front, trying to block Keselowski from passing him. As Edwards moved up one lane from the yellow line, Keselowski quickly turned left to get inside.
Edwards moved back down low to block, but it was too late. Keselowski already had his front bumper inside Edwards' left rear quarter panel. Edwards' car spun and shot into the air.
A terrifying result of two men trying to win a race. That incident may have been on Edwards' mind Sunday.
Keselowski is a victim of his reputation. He's overly aggressive at times and has wrecked other drivers. Denny Hamlin gave him a payback tap at the end of last season in a Nationwide event.
Brad doesn't have a lot of friends in the garage. Whenever an accident happens around him, it's automatically his fault. It's wrong, and it's unfair.
No. 3 wrong reason -- A suspension is too harsh and would take Edwards out of championship contention.
NASCAR isn't in the business of making sure its star drivers stay in contention regardless of their actions.
A few examples: Two years ago, Edwards was penalized 100 points after a victory at Las Vegas for a loose oil-tank lid. Drivers Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter were docked 150 points each in 2008 for having cars with wings mounted improperly. Crew chiefs in all these incidents were suspended.
None of the drivers caused the infractions. No one's life was endangered. So how in the world could Sunday's action by Edwards be a lesser penalty?
The No. 99 Ford still can race in the next event (Bristol on March 21) with a replacement driver.
Some people have argued that no one would have thought twice about Edwards' retaliation move if Keselowski's car had only spun down the track and not hit anything.
That could be true, but it shouldn't be. Edwards was more than 100 laps down and took out a driver who was heading for a top-5 finish. And Edwards did it over an earlier incident that he caused.
In this case, NASCAR must step in. Edwards needs to sit out a race to send a message that this type of payback will not be tolerated.
I'm all for NASCAR's new plan of boys being boys, but Edwards crossed a line this time. If his penalty isn't harsh, this will happen again, and someone somewhere could die.
The Nationwide Series returns to action in the Scotts Turf Builder 300 on March 20 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick led 100 of 130 laps to win Saturday's E-Z-GO 200 at AMS. (Story)
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at email@example.com.
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