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Checkers or wreckers? NASCAR says no

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010

Apparently, NASCAR is OK with Carl Edwards winning Saturday night's Nationwide Series race by wrecking the leader.

Then again, maybe not.

On Wednesday NASCAR fined Edwards $25,000 and docked him 60 driver points for wrecking then-leader Keselowski as both approached the checkered flag. Keselowski had nudged Edwards out of the way earlier in the lap.

Both drivers were placed on probation through the end of the year. Edwards still remains the winner of the race, which was held at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.

It's the second time this season NASCAR felt it necessary to step in and put the brakes on an escalating feud between the two drivers.

Earlier this season, Edwards was put on three weeks probation for retaliating against Keselowski in the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta. In that race, Edwards came back on the track after a wreck and slammed into Keselowski, who was running in the top five. Keselowski's car got airborne and hit the retaining fence.

"This goes back further than just Saturday night," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "Carl was placed on probation after Atlanta but we had told both drivers what we expected of them.

"Fast forward to Saturday night. Brad initiated contact on the last lap and then Carl retaliated. We felt the last-lap actions were outside the line of good, hard-nosed racing."

Pemberton said there was never any consideration of denying Edwards the win, which is why no action was taken Saturday night. The incident underwent the typical post-race review any questionable competition issue receives, he said.

Asked if he thought both Edwards and Keselowski had gotten the message, Pemberton said, "It remains to be seen. I expect them to be professionals and put it behind them."

In an interview on Sirius NASCAR radio Wednesday afternoon, Keselowski said he remained undeterred.

"I am going to drive my car 100 percent and race just as hard. Nothing is going to change," he said. "I don't think (the feud) is healthy, not just for my team or Carl's team but the other teams involved."

In a statement of his own, Roush Racing President Geoff Smith said the organization would evaluate the penalties prior to deciding whether to appeal.

Since the start of the season NASCAR has touted its new "hands off" policy toward racing, allowing drivers to take a more prominent role in policing themselves on the track.

Despite the penalties issued to Edwards and Keselowski, Pemberton said NASCAR's nod to drivers this season to "have at it" remains in place.

Many in NASCAR believe what they perceive as lax penalties for serious actions on the track sends the wrong message.

"The confusion over 'Have at it, boys' continues. Fines and probation are a slap on the wrist," said Speed commentator Dave Despain.

"The message here is that intentionally hooking another driver, turning him into the wall and causing a huge wreck is not OK but then again it's really not all that bad."

So, what's next? It's a question four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon is hoping will be answered soon.

"This is great, but what's too much? Right now what I saw happen Saturday night, to me that was right there on that edge of crossing the line if not possibly crossing the line," Gordon said.

"So it's kind of a new era now. In the past, like I said, I would have immediately thought something would have been done."

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