Commentary

Opie or Eddie? Carl Edwards' actions bringing out debate

Is Carl Edwards the nice all-American guy he comes off as most of the time or the angry confrontationalist he sometimes reveals at the track? The jury seems to be out, writes David Newton.

Updated: November 2, 2007, 3:28 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- People across the country will dress up in Halloween costumes this weekend and go to parties as someone they're not.

Some say Carl Edwards does that every weekend at the track.

On the surface he comes off as the Mr. All-American nice guy with the Hollywood smile and aw-shucks, Opie Taylor from "The Andy Griffith Show" personality who wows the crowd with his patented victory backflips.

Below the surface he sometimes comes off as the sneaky Eddie Haskell character from "Leave it to Beaver" whom Tony Stewart compared him to last year at Pocono.

Remember? Edwards was collected in an accident with Clint Bowyer when Stewart retaliated for an earlier incident. Edwards was so mad that he called Stewart a "jerk" and said "if not for my respect of the sport, he would be out there bleeding right now."

Stewart then compared Edwards to the two-faced character Haskell.

A month later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw that side of Edwards at the Busch Series race at Michigan. Remember? Earnhardt spun Edwards out with two laps remaining to get the win.

Afterward, Edwards rammed Earnhardt's car and then confronted him in Victory Lane.

Earnhardt responded by saying, "That was uncouth," a word nobody had heard before out of NASCAR's most popular driver and probably won't hear again.

Edwards' attack on Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth after Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway was more than uncouth.

That it was caught on a Speed Channel camera was unfortunate for him, but perhaps fortunate for all of those who have been saying there is a side to Edwards that few outside the PR people he has run off see.

"You can't act like that," teammate Greg Biffle said. "Carl has been the one that has sold the smiley guy, nice guy, do-anything-for-you image. The image he's portraying [now] doesn't match up."

To Edwards' credit, he apologized repeatedly for the incident on Tuesday during NASCAR's weekly conference call.

He also put some of the blame on Roush Fenway Racing, saying they don't have the "team spirit" that organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports do with points leader Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

He said teammates don't congratulate him after victories and insinuated that missing camaraderie and a lack of a communication at Roush Fenway were part of the reason he and Kenseth nearly came to blows.

In case you missed it on the Speed Channel or YouTube, Edwards cocked his right arm back as though he were going to hit Kenseth and then threw a fake jab before walking away.

Biffle doesn't agree with Edwards' team spirit theory, saying most teammates always congratulate him after wins. He believes this has more to do with a personality clash between two drivers who are as different as night and day on and off the track.

Kenseth, in his weekly column for USA Today, as much admitted that when he said, "Carl and I aren't friends."

"I don't know why Carl would say that," Biffle said. "We're all in this together. It doesn't take team spirit. It takes teammates standing behind each other."

Biffle isn't totally buying into Edwards' apology. He is concerned that Edwards hasn't called him or the other teammates at Roush Fenway outside of Kenseth to explain what happened and apologize.

"I'd say, 'Damn it, I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done that,'" Biffle said. "I'd call all of my teammates, the guys I'm relying on, and say, 'Guys, I lost it after the race. I was upset.'

"Whatever. Make something up. Say let's get together at Atlanta and have breakfast, lunch or dinner, get together and see what we can do about this."

Without some sort of resolution, Biffle said the morale problem Edwards talked about could become real.

"There's some tension, obviously," he said. "Everyone is a little up in arms when there's some tension between co-workers. It trickles down the chain. It affects everybody."

Greg Biffle

There's some tension, obviously. Everyone is a little up in arms when there's some tension between co-workers. It trickles down the chain. It affects everybody.

-- Greg Biffle

It hasn't affected Edwards' relationship with his primary sponsor, Office Depot. Spokesperson Mindy Kramer said the Edwards she and others in her organization see on a weekly basis isn't the one caught on camera at Martinsville.

"It was upsetting to see," she said of the incident. "It was upsetting to see because we feel over three years we've seen so much of Carl and this really was an aberration that is not part of who he is.

"He's definitely what you see is what you get. There never has been any airs about him. … I'm not a psychologist, but what we saw on video definitely seemed to be just a bad decision at a moment in time, which he's said as well."

Kramer disagreed that there is some alter ego of Edwards.

"The two sides of Carl Edwards we see are the fierce competitor that wants to win and wants more than anything to drive a race car," she said. "And then there's the guy that gives you the high fives and goes out of the way to give his trophies away to kids because he's not racing for the trophy.

"From what we've seen for three years, that's what he's about."

Biffle hopes so. He would like nothing more than to see this situation resolved.

"We heard Kyle Busch talk about how he didn't feel a part of the team [at HMS after it was announced he would be replaced by Earnhardt in 2008]," he said. "They had a little sit-down and worked it out. They realized they've got to work together the rest of the season.

"Carl's got a tremendous amount of talent. He's a great driver. I feel bad that he feels like we're not working together enough."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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