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Thursday, March 11, 2010

NASCAR debacle over Kezelowski crash

From what I can tell, the Atlanta Motor Speedway melee Sunday, March 7 involving Carl Edwards and Brad Kezelowski was just another day at the races. It wasn't much different than any other wreck; it is the nature of the sport.

Where NASCAR should devote all its attention, is safety; that is regardless of the reason for or intention behind the crash. The issue that NASCAR should focus on is that once nudged by Edwards -- admittedly intentionally -- Kezelowski's car flew into the air upside down and backwards, landing on its roof. That is a safety issue for the driver, other drivers and spectators.

Hypocritical NASCAR
I believe NASCAR erred in judgement when Edwards was ordered to sit out the remainder of the race. His being black-flagged was meaningless because he was already more than one hundred laps down. It did not exhibit leadership; it was nothing more than an unnecessary display of power. The disciplinary probation Edwards received was also meaningless, adding nothing to the situation.

How many times do drivers talk about "payback?" We often hear, "rubbin' is racin'?" Former drivers turned commentators snicker as they proclaim, "drivers never forget."

Mostly all of the actions on the track are intentional, whether they are admitted or not. Accidents happen, yes, but how many innocent victims are a result of simply getting caught up in one of those intentional hits between two other drivers.

NASCAR cannot have it both ways. NASCAR issued a directive to drivers to settle their own differences. NASCAR encouraged the beatin' and bangin' that was experienced between Edwards and Kezelowski. And while officials said they weren't going to interfere with a multitude of penalties and fines for driver infractions, that is exactly what they did Sunday with Edwards' meaningless black flag and subsequent probation.

NASCAR needs to figure out which way it wants to go because it cannot sit on the fence on this one. Either the sports' sanctioning body polices the sport fairly, or not at all. There have been numerous criticisms about favoritism in how penalties and fines have been handed out. Consider me among those who are critical of NASCAR's popularity and profit-driven motives.

My conclusion
The dust has settled on this issue. I have read various reports and watched the video. I have concluded that Edwards didn't do anything different than any other driver on the race track.

NASCAR is itself responsible for Edwards thinking little against 'mixing it up' with Kezelowski, even at speeds in excess of 190 mph. That may seem really fast to us non-racecar drivers, but to those guys, it is all in a days' work. And for NASCAR to go out of its way to encourage drivers to mix it up, what did they think would happen?

I think it was wrong to issue any kind of action against Edwards. I'm sure in his mind, during the split second that this occurred, he was doing what NASCAR expected him to do and in fact encouraged him to do. It was "payback." He was "mixing it up," following NASCAR's own directive.

What Edwards did was not the right thing to do. But in his mind, during the frustration of being punted into the wall himself, by Kezelowski -- intentional or not -- being several laps down, and with the words of NASCAR officials ringing in his ear, encouraging him to act accordingly, I cannot fault Edwards.

Had NASCAR not issued such a directive, Edward's behavior may have taken on a new meaning.

That said, there are 43 drivers on the racetrack at one time. Other drivers are often victims of one driver's aggression against another. But that is what the sport is all about. I believe NASCAR got it right to say that drivers should handle their own battles in their own way. Drivers need to understand that "payback" won't make you the most popular guy in the garage. Being the odd man out could easily translate to unhappy fans and unwilling sponsors.

Therefore NASCAR should back off with the fines and penalties. They should devote their resources to safety features that will avoid the kind of crashes that have been seen with the COT car. And until the problem is solved, and the car can keep itself on the ground, perhaps a little more reinforcement might be nice in the roll cage to offer additional protection for the driver.