- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- The question is simple: Should Carl Edwards be suspended for at least one race?
The answer is anything but simple.
NASCAR told drivers to "have at it" in January, hoping to encourage them to show more aggressiveness and emotion, to energize a sport suffering from sagging television ratings and attendance figures.
Edwards had at it on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He blatantly got into the back of Brad Keselowski's car with two laps remaining and sent the 26-year-old driver into a spectacular airborne flip that left the No. 12 Dodge a mangled mess.
Were it not for the superb safety of the car, it could have been a death spiral.
Edwards didn't expect the outcome of his actions to be so dramatic or life-threatening, but having been the victim of an even more violent incident spawned by Keselowski at Talladega last season, he should have known better.
Just replay the visual of Edwards' car flying into the catch fence and injuring seven fans, and nothing more needs to be said.
To NASCAR's credit, Edwards was parked immediately on Sunday, although it hardly hurt him in points because he was 156 laps behind after an earlier incident caused by Keselowski. Officials met with him in the hauler to hear his side of the story, which basically was he didn't mean for it to turn out that way.
It did. NASCAR plans to meet over the next two days to discuss whether further disciplinary action is necessary.
Keselowski, who has ticked off more than his share of drivers with aggressive driving the past year, wants Edwards to be suspended. He said Edwards could have killed him. Fans easily could have been injured like the ones at Talladega were had Keselowski's car gotten into the fence.
"I know that it's a little ironic that it's got me saying that, but at least I didn't do it intentionally when it happened," Keselowski said of the crashes he has caused, including one earlier in this race that took out Edwards and Joey Logano.
"It will be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts to it. They have the ball. If they're going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast, we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands. It's not cool to wreck someone intentionally at 195 miles per hour."
Not cool at all.
And it will be interesting to see how NASCAR responds.
A suspension would be tough. It could mean Edwards, already 20th in points, will have no chance to make the Chase. It could send a message to drivers that "have at it" doesn't mean anything goes and that the great racing we've seen in the first four races will change.
But for the integrity of the sport, a suspension is warranted.
This wasn't an accident. It was premeditated.
That Edwards was so far behind and Keselowski was contending for a top-5 finish made it even more disgusting.
"It's always a concern when you see retaliation and there are a lot of different levels of it," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "We don't rush to judgments on Sunday nights and make penalties. That's why we take our time and go back and talk about it some more."
Odds are NASCAR won't suspend Edwards. They suspended Ted Musgrave in June 2007 for wrecking a Truck series competitor under caution.
The last Sprint Cup driver suspended was Robby Gordon in August 2007, who was parked at Pocono for an incident in a Nationwide Series race at Montreal.
The governing body always has been reluctant to give the death penalty, and having said, "have at it, boys" two months ago, they'll be more reluctant in this case.
Drivers will be awaiting the final verdict more than moviegoers awaited the outcome of the Oscars on Sunday night.
"If we drew a line in the sand and 51 percent of the garage said he was over the line, then you're gonna have a group that agrees with what happened," race winner Kurt Busch said. "If everybody's on one side and NASCAR decides on another, then we'll all scratch our heads and go, 'What really did happen?'"
Fortunately, nobody was hurt, although that's hard to imagine after surveying damage on the No. 12 car. The roll cage was bent to the point Keselowski needed help getting out. His first words -- "I'm talking, so I must not be hurt too bad," were cause for relief.
His next words -- "Was anybody hurt?" -- were cause for pause.
Edwards didn't want to address the matter after meeting with NASCAR, but he obviously was shaken, saying, "I'm just glad everybody is all right."
He explained his actions in more depth later on his Facebook fan page, where he wrote, "My options: Considering that Brad wrecks me with no regard for anyones safety or hard work, should I: A-Keep letting him wreck me? B-Confront him after the race? C-Wait til bristol and collect other cars? or D-Take care of it now? I want to be clear that I was surprised at his flight and very relieved when he walked away. Every person has to decide what code they want to live by and hopefully this explains mine."
He can see it however he wants to, but this wasn't what NASCAR meant by "have at it, boys."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.