Edwards, Keselowski at it again; time to nix the Chase for good?
Carl Edwards wasn't just seeking revenge at Gateway, he wanted a win
The Chase format can cause drivers to stop battling in races they can't win
NASCAR is struggling to cultivate a younger generation of racing fans
The Sprint Cup Series took last week off, but you'd never know it from the sudden burst of e-mail in my inbox. From the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident in Saturday night's Nationwide race, to nixing the Chase, to a long list of ideas on how to fix NASCAR, there's no shortage of topics on your plate.
So let's not waste time. As always, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @NASCARBowles is where you can find me. Off we go!
Let me put it simply: For Carl Edwards to push an opponent out of the way to win a race is immoral. What a horrible message this sends to young racing fans.
-- Greg Wood, Woodland Hills, Calif.
In case you've been out of the country this past off week, look here to find out exactly what Greg is talking about: the last lap of Saturday night's Nationwide race. In it, Keselowski tapped Edwards between turns 1 and 2, getting him sideways enough to take the lead down the backstretch. Coming off the final turn, it looked like Keselowski had the win in the bag -- until Edwards hooked him on the frontstretch, less than 500 feet before the checkered flag flew for the No. 60 instead.
Behind him, the resulting spin threw Keselowski's No. 22 Dodge in front of half-a-dozen Nationwide cars, getting hit several times in an incident where father Bob claimed, "Carl's trying to kill my boy." And he wasn't alone in sharing that sentiment...
If Carl cannot beat Brad K. racing him, are you on a mission to kill him? I hope Brad broadsides Carl every time they are both on the track before he kills or badly injures him. Some people know how to bump and run; evidently, he's not one of them.
-- Sharon Jones, Tulsa, Okla.
I've been a fan of Carl Edwards since he came to Sprint Cup, but I can't condone the finish of the Nationwide race, and I think it's time he left Talladega in the past. When Carl wrecked Brad Keselowski, he left even more racers in his wake. That just isn't professional. NASCAR should fine him, suspend him, take the win away, or whatever it takes to calm Carl down.
-- Sylvia Goodale
Sylvia, 'Dega's really where the whole Carl -- Brad rivalry began, with that flip handing Brad his lone Cup win but sending Carl's car into the catchfence, showering the stands with debris that injured seven and left the driver shaken. In March, Brad got a taste of what it felt like after Carl retaliated with contact of his own that sent the No. 12 car flipping at nearly the same speed.
Saturday's wreck wasn't quite so gruesome, but still plenty dangerous considering the traffic behind the two. However, Jeanne brings up a very important point below...
An eye for an eye, and if NASCAR doesn't like it, too bad! Brad put himself in a position that no matter who would have been where, the same outcome would have occurred. Even though, yes -- he rammed Carl just prior and caused him to wiggle -- the ending wasn't for payback, it was for a win. That's what you go to the track to accomplish.
-- Jeanne, Lake Ozark, Mo.
The point here is that each of these incidents didn't just come out of the blue. In this latest dustup, Keselowski's initial contact with Edwards was going to end up handing him the victory, a calculated move that reminded me of Jimmie Johnson's and Kurt Busch's incident at New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago. In that one, Johnson was able to nudge Busch back to grab the lead without wrecking him, but there's one very important difference: he had time. With Keselowski's contact Saturday occurring on the final lap, Edwards had a five-second decision to make once he failed to gain the lead back the natural way. He could accept second place coming off turn 4, surrendering a 30-point swing in a championship chase he's losing to Brad, or produce an "eye for an eye" in wrecking his rival heading to the start/finish line.
Edwards wound up choosing option two. It's not something we haven't seen before (think: Dale Earnhardt about a dozen times throughout his career) but, in this case, the past history of Edwards' temper combined with his less-than-legendary status has left him NASCAR's Public Enemy Number One of the week.
Great race! I didn't see that Carl did anything wrong, but commentators were talking about NASCAR not liking what happened. Do you think they will penalize Carl?
Tammy, I'm sure glad Carl would be happy to hear you sticking by him, although you're not alone: fan reaction seems to be hovering about 30 percent Team Carl, 70 percent Team Brad. It's just the Team Brad side is adamant a fine and/or suspension is needed, claiming Carl crossed the line no matter what "Have at it, Boys" policy NASCAR has in place to encourage aggressive driving.
Sorry to let the naysayers down, but I don't see any type of serious penalty coming in this case. Most racers appear to be angry with the way in which Edwards wrecked Keselowski: it was by hitting his right rear corner, hooking the No. 22 car into the wall with a maneuver that left the victim defenseless. It's a high-risk hit in terms of compromising safety, especially considering the number of cars behind both drivers. But doesn't that risk exist every time two cars touch? Busch could have hit Johnson a little too hard in New Hampshire, spun the No. 48 car out and caused an injury. A few weeks ago at Infineon, Jeff Gordon could have seriously hurt any of the five drivers he wrecked by overaggressive driving.
So for NASCAR to make a decision based on the type of contact is a sticky issue, a gray area judgment call its trying to steer away from. In my opinion, you either allow contact or you don't, and I think race fans do want the ability for these guys to beat and bang. That means no serious penalty, otherwise drivers revert back to confusion over what is and isn't allowed on the race track. I think you'll see probation the rest of the year for Carl ... and that's it.
As for the rivalry itself, I do think both men have straddled the line between what's acceptable. I don't think that line has been crossed, but it's high time for both to cool it a bit.
Let's move on to the Chase.
Tom, you're right, the best thing NASCAR could do is go back to the old points format. NASCAR is losing fans because the Chase is boring and idiotic. NASCAR is not a stick-and-ball sport, and shouldn't be ran as one. There should be no "playoff." An analogy would be to have the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series but allow some Red Sox, Angels, Athletics, etc. to play on the Yankees roster and Mets, Cardinals, et al on the Dodgers roster but not allow them a World Series ring or to be considered a part of the winning team. The non-Yankee or Dodger players would most certainly affect the outcome of the game, but would not necessarily care about that outcome.
Watch as we get to closer to the Chase and see how many drivers pull aside or don't race a Chaser or someone contending for the Chase hard. And then, it gets even worse when the Chase starts --- the Chasers might as well have police sirens and flashing lights on their cars at times. The Chase has taken away the hard racing that everyone loved - yes, the Winston Cup leader might have had it easy the last few races, but not half the season. I don't want to try and modify the Chase points system, I want to get rid of the Chase!
-- Tim, Round Rock, Texas
Excellent explanation of why the Chase is so befuddling. What Tim explains, we'll see from guys like Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, et al over the next few weeks at races they don't have any chance of winning. If they can't grab that 10-point bonus, well, what incentive is there for them to go out and finish as high as possible? They've assured themselves of a Chase spot, and regular season finishing order doesn't matter for the playoffs... just wins.
I'm still waiting for the race where, just like how NFL teams rest their starters late in the year, a Chaser uses an entire 500-mile regular season race as a test session, finishing 50 laps down for the sake of experimenting to "improve" himself for the fall. With so many drivers (about six) assured of a spot right now, I'm thinking it could happen this year.
Tom, I actually drove from Irving, Texas, to Oakbrook, IL (Premier Sports Travel NASCAR Package) for the Chicagoland race last weekend. It was strange and sad seeing so many empty seats. I spoke to several people who lived around Joliet and they said the state itself has been hit hard economically and longtime NASCAR fans and supporters have had to make a sad choice between paying their bills or heading to the track.
Texas Motor Speedway does a great family pack $100 for four tickets (backstretch) four hot dogs and soft drinks. More tracks should do something like that. I take one out-of-state NASCAR trip each year through Premier Sports Travel. They allow me to put a small deposit down and pay as I go (45 days out from the race). Maybe the tracks could have some kind of deposit type program as well. It's hard to plop down $120-140 then the pit pass $40-$180.
-- Jackie Koehlar, Irving, Texas
It's a great idea, Jackie. One other issue with Chicagoland is in the past you've always had to buy tickets to multiple races. They don't split off the Cup tickets from the other, preliminary events that go on over the course of the weekend, making them one of the more expensive tracks to go to on the circuit. Considering the racing is hardly worthy of such an honor, no wonder they're having major attendance problems.
I'm told not only will ticket prices go down for 2011, but also that longtime policy is DOA. I just hope it isn't too late for fans already disillusioned by the way they were treated.
Let's briefly address the state of the sport. I was flooded by e-mail with bright ideas on how to fix NASCAR, feedback that will spurn its own mailbag sometime in late August. For now, let's check out this thoughtful one on why the sport's continuing to sputter...
I've had recurring tickets to Dover for 15 years, but in 2011 I'm letting them go. Quite simply the races have been boring, and there are always one or two guys who just run away with it. With the exception of a couple races, most events see one guy lead 80 percent of the laps. The only drama might be caused by a fuel mileage situation.
My friends and I were trying to put our fingers on why NASCAR has lost our attention (and money).
1. No more Earnhardt
2. Junior sucks
3. Jimmie Johnson wins too much
4. Kyle Busch is a great driver, but a punk
5. Guys like Mark Martin are being yanked around to make room for Kasey Kahne
6. You can't tell the cars apart. I'm all for safety, but you can still make them distinct.
7. All the old veteran drivers were kicked to the curb (Bobby Labonte).
And on and on. I think what NASCAR isn't seeing is that when I lose interest, my kids don't watch so they won't grow up watching, and giving their money to NASCAR.
-- Ron Vallet
I don't agree with all your points, Ron, but 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 stand out to me. The light bulb also goes off with your comment about the next generation. Where is NASCAR struggling the most right now? With the 18-34 crowd that's being courted by rivals in the NBA, NFL, NHL ... the list goes on and on. While the older fan base remains loyal, it won't be around forever, and that generation gap is going to start to haunt attendance figures soon if this series can't find a way to reinvent itself as an attractive follow for young people.
Finally, our out of left field e-mail for the week...
You should have done the drive-along first -- that way you could see what top speed felt like.
-- Darren Evans, Atlanta, Ga.
Darren, the sad part is I did do the Pocono Ride-A-Long before jumping in the car! I had an idea of what the top speed was, just never could hit it myself. That's why they're the professionals, I guess, and I'm sitting here writing on a laptop.
"I'm surprised he got to keep the win, frankly." - @dennyhamlin's response to the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski wreck on Saturday night, taking his spot on Team Keselowski. Hamlin's position in the matter raised some eyebrows, considering he and Keselowski aren't exactly best buds; they had their own "Have at it, boys" incident last fall that resulted in Keselowski getting spun at Homestead in retaliation