Boys will be boys

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

NASCAR LETTING EDWARDS OFF THE HOOK MEANS IT'S DEMOLITION DERBY TIME - So I guess NASCAR was right all along about letting the drivers sort out discipline on the track at 190 m.p.h.

At least that is how it appears after Carl Edwards received what amounts to a mild slap on the wrist -- a three-race probation -- Tuesday from NASCAR boss Mike Helton.

Edwards had deliberately drove his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford into the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge of Brad Keselowski Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The result was a spectacularly dangerous wreck when Keselowski's race car turned over, became airborne and crashed hard into the outside retaining wall.

While Keselowski walked away without injury, Edwards' actions could have resulted in debris hitting, maiming and even killing spectators seated in the grandstands near where the No. 12 car hit the wall.

Yet there was Helton telling the media via a teleconference call Tuesday that he considered the penalty apt for the infraction.

Please, what penalty?

There is no fine; Edwards doesn't lose any championship points and from all reports he didn't even get a good tongue lashing in the big yellow truck in a meeting with NASCAR officials after the race.

Kevin Harvick, who was suspended for one race, fined and docked 100 points after a similar incident back in 2002 at Martinsville, was stunned at how easy Edwards got off.

"I'm thinking about asking for a refund for all of my penalties," Harvick wrote on his Twitter account shortly after NASCAR revealed Edwards' penalty.

But Helton was adamant that NASCAR had made the right decision on Edwards.

After all, it was NASCAR that announced with great fanfare at the start of the 2010 season that is was instituting a policy of "Boys, have at it" that it hoped would put more excitement into the sport by letting drivers sort out their differences on the track.

Well, they got their excitement on Sunday, but surely NASCAR never meant the policy to have this kind of result.

Helton certainly was circumspect in his interpretation.

"It's a function of us wanting to do the right thing, to allow them to race," he said. "The other side is that we have to maintain law and order within reason. There is a line that can't be crossed, and we will step in when we think that line is crossed."

Okay, NASCAR, but where is that line?

"I think we see it when we see it," Helton said. "Us stepping in to maintain law and order isn't just always a result of a penalty being issued or public reaction. There are a lot of things we do behind the scenes with owners and drivers to balance these types of things out."

Does that mean it is okay to drive into a competitor at 190 m.p.h. as long as there is a feud going on?

This sounds more like an old-time western movie than it does a 2010 major professional sporting event.

Helton, however, stands by the NASCAR creed of "rubbing is racing" and that the very nature of stock car racing is close-quarter battles between 3,500-pound sheet metal and steel rockets.

He said the drivers know the risks and the inherent dangers and therefore must share in the responsibility of keeping the peace on the track.

"If there's a rivalry that goes on while racing, then they need to figure out how to manage that before we get more involved in it," Helton said.

So what will it take for NASCAR to get involved?

For one, probably a backlash from fans would do the trick, but here's guessing that the ratings will take a big jump when Edwards and Keselowski return to racing March 21 at Bristol, Tenn.

That folks means NASCAR bosses will be thinking they are just about the smartest executives in sports, and maybe they are.

Just look at a poll by NASCAR.com in which it asked its readers what kind of punishment did they think Edwards deserved.

As of Tuesday, out 128,101 respondents, a whopping 57,945 (45%) answered Edwards should get off scott free, that paybacks are part of racing.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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