It sounded so good in January when NASCAR told its drivers: "Boys, have at it."
Go do it like it used to be done. Police yourselves. Have some fun out there.
That was the message delivered by NASCAR, both to its drivers and to its fans. Concerned about stale TV ratings and complaints that the racing just wasn't as cool as it used to be, NASCAR promised to loosen its iron grip.
It doesn't sound very good now.
Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta on Sunday and got off with a slap on the wrist Tuesday. Yes, Edwards received a three-race probation, but he still gets to keep racing. Yes, he got parked right after he wrecked Keselowski, but Edwards was more than 150 laps down at the time.
I would have given Edwards a one-race suspension and docked the No.99 team some driver and owner points, too.
This is the dark side of "Boys, have at it." Those four words make economic sense - adding more excitement and selling more tickets. But sometimes, when emotions are boiling, it's a philosophy that is tantamount to letting the inmates run the asylum.
As Keselowski himself pointed out Sunday, his No.12 car could have killed somebody in the grandstands. Keselowski's car went airborne after Edwards hit him from behind before flipping and returning to earth.
"It's not cool to wreck someone intentionally at 195 mph," Keselowski said.
Now I know these drivers have a checkered history. Keselowski and Edwards had banged into each other earlier in the race. And Keselowski helped send Edwards airborne at Talladega (Ala.) last year, which resulted in one of the scariest wrecks in the history of the sport.
"At least when I did it, it wasn't intentional," Keselowski said.
Edwards, of course, didn't mean to punt Keselowski's car into the sky Sunday. "I wish that it wouldn't have gone like it did," Edwards said shortly after the wreck.
I believe that. But it happened.
NASCAR is trying to spin this by separating Edwards' retaliatory nudge and Keselowski's resulting flip, but the fact is one doesn't happen without the other. Work on the cars all you want, NASCAR, but don't pretend this is simply an engineering issue.
Edwards was at fault, and he should have been punished more severely.
If you drive 90 mph on a road with a 55-mph speed limit and a policeman catches you, you get a nasty speeding ticket and pay higher insurance rates. But if you run into another car while you're doing it and hurt or kill somebody, you're in a lot more trouble.
Edwards had bad intentions. Think about what would happen if a similar incident occurred in another sport and was obviously intentional. A pitcher beans a batter. A hockey player high-sticks an opponent. An NBA player throws a punch.
Would they be suspended? I think so.
Edwards only seems to have received a stern talking-to and a three-race, double-secret, don't-do-it-again-and-you're-OK probation. That's just not enough.
So what would it take for a driver to actually get suspended for a race under the "boys, have at it" rules?
I have two guesses. Either you seriously maim or kill somebody. Or else you punt Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car into the air instead of Brad Keselowski's.