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And next on NASCAR's agenda: that face-to-face with Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski

   No longer buds? Carl Edwards (L) and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   The next chapter in the Atlanta 500 review of the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski run-ins is set for Saturday when the two are to meet in the NASCAR hauler together with NASCAR executives to discuss their recent escapades.
    The two tangled twice at Atlanta, and Edwards, after the second incident, which launched Keselowski airborne, said he had retaliated on purpose. For that, NASCAR put Edwards on three-race probation.
   Both drivers kept a low profile Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   However some of their rivals had a few words to say.
   "What happened at Atlanta, it wasn't pretty," Jeff Burton said. "It was a situation that I think surprised a lot of us. It's not how it should have been handled.
   "There have been a bunch of times I have been really mad and my emotions got the better of me. But being around long enough, I now understand that this is really important and we work really hard at it -- When something bad happens, the way you handle it means a lot.
    "Learning from it means a lot....and just flipping out about it fixes nothing, it makes nothing better."

   And then came reports that Kevin Harvick, who had a run-in of his own with Edwards in 2007, had offered a few not-so-nice words about Edwards on a radio show earlier this week. To which Edwards replied in kind.
    NASCAR drivers are typically high-strung, and post-race run-ins are not infrequent: like Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth here a few years ago, and Edwards and Kenseth at Martinsville in the fall of 2007, and Edwards and Harvick at Charlotte in the fall of 2008, following the Talladega crash involving Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle that all but took both men out of that season's title hunt.  At Talladega that fall Harvick, after the crash, criticized Edwards on TV, and Edwards replied with a sarcastic note left on Harvick's airplane. Edwards and Harvick then had a brief dust-up in the garage over all that.
    Apparently Harvick and Edwards still aren't very good friends, and Harvick, the current tour points leader, seems to be going out of his way to make that clear.
   Edwards says he'll have more to say about things after Saturday's meeting.

    Clint Bowyer, Burton's teammate and fifth in the standings, says he figures NASCAR will be watching all drivers here a little more closely, after the Atlanta crash. But just what that means, well, might not be that clear. "They (NASCAR) said they're going to allow us to work things out, and they have pretty much set a precedent that they are going to do that," Bowyer said.
    "A three-race probation for Carl, and I don't think you're going to see any more problems there. 
     "That (the Atlanta crash) got scary enough. And I think enough is enough. And they were probably told that and realized that.
    "That could have been bad. That could have been extremely bad. And we're just extremely lucky that it wasn't bad.
    "We got to learn from that mistake -- all of us -- and handle it accordingly and go on."


  Jeff Burton, on Edwards-Keselowski: Not cool (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   What does Burton expect to come out of the Edwards-Keselowski face-to-face?
    "I expect they will come out of there understanding that they are not in charge...that NASCAR is...and if they continue, NASCAR will remind them in a way they won't soon forget that they are in charge," Burton says.
    "I think it will be demanded of them to behave in a certain fashion and find a way to work together.
    "Race hard, but work together. I think that will be the gist of the conversation I would imagine.
     "I would also expect them to try and get some things off their chest, and NASCAR I'm sure will encourage that. I don't think Mike (Helton, the NASCAR president) ever minds hearing a good argument...but he'll have the final say."
    Then again NASCAR's handling of the Keselowski-Edwards situation has not gone without criticism either.
    Still Burton points out that this sport is in a sense 'self-policing.'   
    "Every lap at every track someone could spin somebody out to take the position," Burton says. "The reason that doesn't happen is because you know that if you do that it is going to get done to you.
     "If you look at the number of times people have been penalized for spinning someone out, it is very very small.
     "That means the sport polices itself already."
     And then Burton offered a personal example: "Jack Ingram (after a race early in Burton's career) taught me a lesson I will never forget. I went down there and ran my little mouth, and he let me know real quick that wasn't going to be tolerated.
      "NASCAR wasn't involved. I didn't go running to NASCAR.
      "He let me know in his own way that my attitude wouldn't be tolerated in that garage.
     "It is kind of funny the way it all went down: He doesn't remember it....which says something about it.
    "He physically picked me up. He literally had my feet off the ground. His son -- I remember the words like it was yesterday -- said 'Daddy, put Jeff down. He's a good boy.'"

   Denny Hamlin says NASCAR is getting just what it wanted, with this Edwards-Keselowski controversy: "That's what NASCAR promoted...I was the first one at Daytona to say 'Hey, it's not going to change the way we race each other,' but so far it has. 
   "You're still going to have to answer to the (sponsor) logos on your shirt. But for the most part everyone has done a good job of letting drivers settle it. 
    "This has been a self-policing sport for more than just this year. Now I think guys are taking it to heart a little bit."
   Mark Martin said the Atlanta incident shocked him: "That accident had a result that was unintended and big.
    "When they said 'Have at it, boys,' I thought they meant to take care of it when you step out of the car on pit road. 
    "But it is pretty open, and that was their way of bringing in interest and drama and infusing excitement into the sport.
    "Since that accident turned out to be something of unintended consequences, it ended up being a bigger deal than it might have been."

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