Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rating the Kobalt Tools 500: 3 Stars ***

The Sprint Cup Series returned to the Southeast Sunday for what was set up to be a great weekend of racing, and for the most part, it was pretty good. However, things could have turned out better than they did. The Atlanta spring race gets a 3 Star Rating.

Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, the past two winners at Atlanta coming into Sunday’s race, once again had the best two cars throughout the day. But, the #2 machine was better on short runs and was able to hold off a late scare from Juan Pablo Montoya. This race proved the #2 team is once again going to be a championship contender. Overall, all three of the Penske cars had very strong runs Sunday. Unfortunately, only one came home with a good finish.

That leads us into the overriding topic of the day: Carl Edwards’ payback to Brad Keselowski with two laps to go. Early in the race Edwards moved low in Turn 1 but Keselowski was there and tapped Edwards, sending him up the track and into Joey Logano. Edwards’ car was severely damaged and had to go to the garage for extensive repairs. Once he did come back out, he was focused solely on the red #12 car of Keselowski. While the television cameras showed two attempts at a wipeout, Keselowski said there were three. Anyway, Edwards ran up under Keselowski and sent him flying into the wall. Had this been five years ago, the last time Edwards had that paint scheme on his car, Keselowski would have been killed. It is unbelievable he came out of that crash unhurt. Thankfully, the new car has a larger cockpit and the roof and window area didn’t crush him.

Also, if there was any doubt whether or not the wing should come off the car, Sunday’s wreck answered those questions. In every other bad wreck with the COT, there has been some other factor that could take the blame. Not this time. First, this was not a restrictor plate race, so the cars were not running too close together in large packs. Second, the roof flaps deployed perfectly, yet the car took off. With the old car, the flaps would have kept the car on the ground, and a spoiler would deflect air down instead of having a space for it to get under the wing and lift the back of the car off the ground.

Now NASCAR has the biggest decision of the season in its hands. Suspend Edwards? Let’s look back at a similar situation. In 2008 at Richmond, Casey Mears ran Michael Waltrip into the wall in Turn 4. Waltrip then slammed into the back of Mears and pushed him all the way down the front stretch into the Turn 1 wall. In that situation NASCAR parked Waltrip for the rest of the race and that was the extent of the penalty. Also, that night Waltrip was several laps down to the leaders. If NASCAR does suspend Edwards, of the severity of the crash should not be a factor. His intent, while out of line, was to spin Keselowski out, not send him flying upside down into the wall.

This was a flagrant foul by Edwards and he was kicked out of the race. If NASCAR does decide to suspend him, will this curb the “Have at it boys” racing that NASCAR has been banking on to breathe life back into the sport? This is certainly not what NASCAR had in mind and Edwards did not do this because the rules were relaxed, but the fear of suspension could make someone think twice when deciding whether or not to bump a car out of the way. Also, if NASCAR does suspend Edwards, it will ruin his season and he can kiss his Chase hopes goodbye. In other sports a suspension does not ruin a player’s season, it is just a bump in the road.

At this point Edwards understands the severity of his actions, as that was likely not a pleasant meeting he had with the NASCAR officials inside the big yellow truck. The picture in my mind is Edwards walking into a room with one dim light hanging behind Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and John Darby as they sat in three chairs glaring at Edwards as he walked in. Edwards looked like a kid who had just punched his brother right in front of his parents and knew a big punishment was coming and had no valid excuse.

While all of the crash aftermath will be interesting to follow over the next two weeks, it did ruin what was possibly going to be another fantastic Atlanta finish. Montoya was gaining on Busch and I believe he would have at least caught him before the checkered. Montoya may not have made the pass, but it would have been exciting.

Anyway, after a week off the series heads to Bristol of all places. There is no reason not to be excited about that race. There hasn’t been this much bad blood flowing through the sport in years, especially heading to a short track. Enjoy the week off everybody and get ready for three weeks of side-by-side beating and banging.


  1. Well, you know I will give a Blue Deuce win 5 stars! I was dying with all those restarts. Thank god Kurt has learned how to not spin his tires with all that drag racing he is doing! Montoya was catching him but I also know they were telling Kurt to go slow and save his tires in case they had restarts to deal with.

    Edwards wont get suspended - no precedence for it and NASCAR has all the press it wants right now. Cant punish that! They will look mean and gruff but as I said somewhere else, my guess is the fact that Carl really did almost severely injure Brad might be psychologically damaging enough to keep them in check. That car was a mess.

  2. klvalus - It would have been ugly had Busch not been able to hold on. Losing a race after all that would have been tough.

    You were right on. Carl was not suspended and only given three races on probation. It was a scary wreck and, as you said, hopefully opened the drivers' eyes to what can happen everywhere, not just at restrictor plate tracks.

  3. Right on with your rating again this week, JM. Any race that doesn't put me to sleep deserves more than two stars.

    Correct that today's cars are safer than those of five years ago.... but they didn't have the rear wing five years ago either. So, BK probably wouldn't have even become airborne five years ago.

  4. Gene - Good point. Adding the spoiler soon will hopefully keep these cars on the ground, but safety is always a moving target and some other problem might pop up that we will be talking about in a year or so. Hopefully not.

  5. Yeah, I'd agree with the analysis there :)

    Going slightly offtopic for a bit....why doesn't Keselowski have a rookie stripe on his car? He didn't run the full season last year so he has to have it, right?

    It can't be the 'have to use it on tracks you've not raced at before' since Ambrose had it on the road courses last year and he'd been to those before *scratches head in confusion*

  6. tezgm99 - While Keselowski didn't run the entire schedule, he did run enough races to qualify for Rookie of the Year contention last year. Like in baseball, a player can only play a certain number of games to still be a rookie the next season. Keselowski ran 15 Cup races last year so he was considered a rookie last year instead of this year. If he had run seven or less, he would still be a rookie this season.

    Not sure about the "have to use it on tracks you've not raced at before." Seems like sometimes they have it and other times they don't.

  7. yeah, that's my point...Ambrose ran 11 races in 2008 so he didn't qualify for the 2009 RotY either yet had the stripe at every track. I wonder if it's just random like pretty much every other 'rule' in NASCAR, lol