Drivers mixed on Edwards' punishment
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- How far is too far for one driver to exact revenge on another driver during a race?
"We still don't know," Elliott Sadler said Tuesday at Darlington Raceway.
Sadler was among a handful of Sprint Cup and Truck series drivers at NASCAR's oldest superspeedway for a Goodyear tire test. He spent most of his lunch break watching NASCAR president Mike Helton on a video conference explain why no punishment was given to Carl Edwards for intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski in Sunday's Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR placed Carl Edwards on probation for the next three Sprint Cup races. Suspensions are rare for on-the-track incidents, and only a handful of drivers have been parked for incidents taking place during or after races. Here are some notable instances in recent history (courtesy ESPN Stats & Information):
2007: Robby Gordon
Parked for Cup race at Pocono, fined $35,000 and placed on probation for incident during Nationwide race at Montreal.
2007: Ted Musgrave
Parked for Truck race at Memphis, docked 50 driver points and fined $10,000 for incident with Kelly Bires under caution at Milwaukee.
2003: Jimmy Spencer
Parked for Cup race at Bristol, fined $25,000 and placed on probation for postrace incident with Kurt Busch at Michigan.
2002: Kevin Harvick
Parked for Cup race at Martinsville, fined $35,000 and placed on probation for on-the-track incident with Coy Gibbs during Truck race at Martinsville.
The incident occurred with three laps remaining when Edwards clipped the back of Keselowski's car at close to 195 mph as retaliation for an earlier incident that had put him 156 laps down. Keselowski's car went airborne, flipped and landed on its roof.
Keselowski called for a suspension.
NASCAR, which had said before the season that it would let drivers play a bigger role in policing the sport, did not suspend, deduct points from or slap Edwards with a monetary fine. He received only a three-race probation.
So how far can the next driver go for payback?
"We still don't know how far we can go to pay somebody back," Sadler said. "You've got to protect your real estate and what you do on the racetrack. You definitely don't want people taking advantage of you.
"A lot of [payback] goes on on the racetrack that you guys don't see or doesn't end up spectacular. My main concern was the 12 car going upside down."
That is a concern of NASCAR's, too. It's one of the things that Brett Bodine, the director of compeition at NASCAR's Research and Development Center, was looking into with the new spoiler at the Darlington test.
But not every driver agreed with Sadler that Edwards should have gotten off without punishment. Clint Bowyer, who was in seventh place right behind the incident when it occurred, was most outspoken.
"The way the outcome of it played out, there should be some consequences," he said. "Too far is too far, and that was too far. He knew it as soon as it happened. It scared everybody. There needs to be wake-up calls, but it doesn't need to be forgotten about.
"We've got to learn from that mistake. Everybody has to do a better job before we kill somebody."
The incident led to two green-white-checkered finishes, the second caused by a multicar pileup in which Bowyer was collected. Had Edwards not flipped Keselowski and the race ended in green, Bowyer would have been in the points lead.
Instead, he slipped to fifth.
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"When you take actions like that, the repercussions are on everybody," Bowyer said. "That's the unfortunate part of it. That's what made me mad.
"Retaliation is one thing. Carl is my friend. He's a good guy and a good racer. He could be a little bit more smarter about things. That was a situation that could have maybe gotten somebody killed."
Bowyer agreed that the greater concern should be keeping cars on the ground. But he's not sure that is possible even with the spoiler that will replace the wing in two and a half weeks at Martinsville.
"I don't think anything is meant to go 195 mph backwards," Bowyer said. "I don't care what it is. You could turn one of these tractor-trailers around backwards running 195 mph, and it's probably going to flip over. That's asking a lot."
Keselowski, in a statement, supported NASCAR's decision.
"They are not in an enviable position when it comes to these matters, but they do an outstanding job," Keselowski said. "The unfortunate part about what happened on Sunday is that it has overshadowed a win by the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and an overall solid performance by Penske Racing at Atlanta.
"Hopefully we can move past this and get ready for Bristol. It is a track where Penske Racing has had a lot of success in the past. I feel 100 percent and I am looking forward to getting back to competition."
Retaliation is one thing. Carl is my friend. He's a good guy and a good racer. He could be a little bit more smarter about things. That was a situation that could have maybe gotten somebody killed.” -- Clint Bowyer
Several drivers and owners reacted to NASCAR's decision on Twitter. Robby Gordon said, "Just heard the news. I wonder what would [have] happened to me in that situation? Hmmmm. Someone playing favorites?"
Denny Hamlin, who received a two-lap penalty for spinning Keselowski in last season's Nationwide Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as retaliation, said, "Everyone needs to take a chill pill. Was it OK for Brad to spin me in front of the field? How dangerous was that to me?"
Team owner Michael Waltrip supported NASCAR's decision completely, saying, "Good call, NASCAR. You can't ask the driver to take their gloves off one week and then tell them to put them back on the next week."
All good points.
Some suggested Edwards could have picked a better place to retaliate. Bowyer definitely agreed, saying, "There's too far for everything, and that was too far. Bottom line."
Sadler took the more diplomatic approach.
"What do you do? Do you wait 'til Bristol and get 20 cars in the wreck?" he said. "Now you've got 19 other people mad at you. What do you do? Guys, this is a tough sport. Everybody runs about the same speed. You've got to protect your real estate.
"You can't let guys run over the top of you all the time. If you think it's getting to that point where you have two or three problems in a row, you've got to put your foot down. If not, they're going to take advantage of you all the time."
But how far is too far?
"You tell me," Sadler said.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.