AP Photo/Skip Williams
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.
Nationwide Series: Bristol next on the calendar
The Nationwide Series returns to action in the Scotts Turf Builder 300 on March 20 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Camping World Truck Series: Harvick dominates at Atlanta
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.
Racing Resources Says
Sprint Cup Series
- Kurt Busch won the 2010 Kobalt Tools 500. It was his 21st Cup series win in his 332nd career start, moving into a tie for 28th with Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Benny Parsons and Jack Smith on NASCARs all-time wins list. It was his third Cup win at Atlanta in 19 starts -- his last win came in this race one year ago.
- Busch has scored a victory in each of the last nine seasons. He became the 15th driver to score three or more Atlanta victories.
- Busch led six times for 129 laps, including the final 10 laps.
- Penske Racing scored its 65th Cup series victory, and its third win at Atlanta.
- Bill Elliott finished 16th in the Wood Brothers' 1,350th Cup race.
- Ryan Newman finished 17th in his 300th series race.
- Three drivers have scored top-10 finishes in the first four races of 2010: Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
- Harvick leads the standings by 26 points over second-place Matt Kenseth.
- Pole winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th.
- Matt Kenseth (second) has finished 13th or better in the previous 10 Atlanta races.
- Juan Pablo Montoya (third) posted his third top-5 finish at Atlanta -- he also finished third at Atlanta in September.
- Kasey Kahne (fourth) led the most laps in the race, taking the point eight times for 144 laps. He posted his third straight top-10 finish at Atlanta and his second top-10 finish of 2010, both in last two races.
- Paul Menard (fifth) posted his best finish in eight races at Atlanta.
- Brian Vickers (seventh) scored top-10 finishes in the past three Atlanta races.
- Kevin Harvick (ninth) has scored top-10 finishes in the past three Atlanta races.
- Tony Stewart (13th) has been running at the finish in the previous 18 Atlanta races.
- Jeff Burton (20th) has been running at the finish in the last 14 Atlanta races.
- Three cars failed to qualify for the Kobalt Tools 500: No. 09, Aric Almirola; No. 90, Casey Mears; and No. 46, Terry Cook.
- Dodge scored its ninth victory at Atlanta. Chevrolet has 35 wins, Ford has 29, Toyota has one, and all others have 28.
- The top 10 consisted of five Fords, two Chevrolets, two Toyotas and one Dodge.
Camping World Truck Series
- Kevin Harvick won the E-Z-GO 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was his seventh series victory in his 102nd career start. He's won the last three races he's started. It was his 53rd career NASCAR win across all three major series.
- Harvick led twice for a race-high 100 laps, including the final 56.
- It was Kevin Harvick Inc.'s 27th victory.
- Kyle Busch (second) failed to win for only the second time at Atlanta. He had won in four of the previous five races he competed in at Atlanta.
- Aric Almirola (third) scored his best finish at Atlanta and is now fourth in points.
- Steve Wallace (fourth) made his Truck series debut.
- Ricky Carmichael (sixth) scored a career-best finish.
- Austin Dillon (10th) scored his first career top-10 finish. He was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
- Todd Bodine (fifth) took over the points lead.
- Defending series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. finished 34th, his second consecutive DNF of 2010. He is 28th in points but was fifth at this point last year.
- The top 10 consisted of five Toyotas, four Chevrolets and one Ford. The highest-finishing Dodge was Jason White in 11th.
-- Racing Resources