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Hot Blood in Dixie: Roger Penske weighs in on the Brad Keselowski-Carl Edwards controversy

  Roger Penske: just wants to get the Edwards-Keselowski controversy in the rear view (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Is there any perspective here, other than two hothead stock car racers taking each other to the limit...and beyond?
   What is this Keselowski-Edwards thing: just another case of 'hot blood in Dixie?'
   Roger Penske has gone through a lot in his racing career, really great highs, really down lows. So he can keep things like this Brad Keselowski-Carl Edwards brouhaha in some perspective.
     But can these two drivers?
   Keselowski has an edge, no question about that. Just 21 races into a Cup career, he has managed to anger a lot of the sport's biggest names. Still  Penske wasn't blind to all this when he hired Keselowski away from Rick Hendrick and Chevrolet, so he must have liked what he's seen in the 26-year-old second-generation racer.
    "I'm not taking a poll in the garage about what driver personalities are and what other people feel about them," Penske says curtly about Keselowski and his rivals.
     "He's a competitor out there, he drives for Penske Racing, and I'm going to support him."
    But some rivals have been taking their revenge. Denny Hamlin wiped Keselowski out last November at Homestead, and Edwards took care of business at Atlanta.
   It's all just what NASCAR executives have been looking for, with this 'Boys, have at it' approach to the 2010 season, to put some more spark back in this sport.
   However some drivers themselves – the ones who are at risk – aren't all that enthusiastic about this 'anything goes' marketing campaign.
   Just ask Mark Martin, for one.
   And if NASCAR executives couldn't see the line 'too far' at Atlanta, why should drivers have any confidence NASCAR will see it anywhere else?
   In the wake of such high drama at Atlanta between Edwards and Keselowski, and some rather negative reaction in the national media to the whole affair, NASCAR executives held a face to face meeting Saturday morning here with Penske and Keselowski on one side of the hauler and Edwards and car owner Jack Roush on the other.
   "Obviously it was important that we all got together -- from the standpoint of just having open conversation," Penske said after the meeting.
   "I think it was good conversation.
    "I think Carl realized what had happened last week wasn't what he expected...the car flying.
    "To me it was just good, open communication: The guys agreed they're going to race hard, they're going to race fair, and give themselves some room on the track -- so we don't become the poster boys every weekend.
    "I said 'Hey, at the end of the race, if we're racing for the lead and there's a lap or two to go, you guys are going to have to run hard....but try and stay out of each other's way during the race.'
    "It was a good conversation; they're both good guys. It's just great we have an environment where we can sit down."

    Keselowski himself stepped from NASCAR hauler into his Nationwide car to win the pole for Saturday afternoon's 300....in the series where he is battling Edwards, ironically, for the tour lead. "If you're going to be successful in this sport, it's really important to separate your emotions from trying to get the job done," Keselowski said. (The pre-race driver intro measure of boos-vs-cheers for the two was inconclusive. Penske's newest driver, Justin Allgaier, held off Keselowski to win the Nationwide race.)


   Brad Keselowski suits up for Saturday's Nationwide 300, and more battling with Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

The meeting? "I don't know how Carl feels about it, but I don't think it's cool to say everything that was said in there," Keselowski said.
   "Hopefully it will be productive, to where we can move forward and continue to race each other hard and not have any more incidents like we had at Atlanta.
    "We hadn't talked before."
    That in itself may be a bit surprising, since one key tenets in this sport is after any major incident one driver is expected to call the other and try to talk things out. Jimmie Johnson, for example, says he has made that a point.
     While none of the men in the meeting would offer specifics," I wouldn't say there was anything said that surprised me," Keselowski said.
    "You have to understand -- Carl and I have a mutual respect for each other; in a sense we're almost the same people. We come from similar backgrounds. We drive the same way.
     "I have a lot of respect for him, before and after the accident. Hopefully that will stay the same."
    However the two don't seem to give each other much room when racing. Earlier at Atlanta Edwards had moved down on Keselowski going into the corner, expecting Keselowski to give him the inch or two for the spot.
   But Keselowski has a reputation for not giving an inch or two.....that was one reason for the Talladega crash a year ago.
   Edwards was leading Talladega the final lap, with Keselowski trying to make a move to the inside on the frontstretch trioval. That's the same move that Regan Smith had made – low on the inside – against Tony Stewart the previous race there. When Stewart moved down to block, Smith was forced below the yellow line to avoid a crash. NASCAR didn't make that call though. Smith crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR penalized him for going below the line, even though Smith insisted Stewart had forced that move.
    When Keselowski was faced with the same defensive block by Edwards at Talladega, he stood his ground, and afterwards said the Stewart-Smith situation showed him precedent.
   But what happened was Edwards' car getting launched into the safety catch fence, injuring some fans.

   Roger Penske men go 1-2 in Saturday's Nationwide 300, Justin Allgaier edging Brad Keselowski (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "Carl and I have talked before about leaving each other more room," Keselowski says. "But it seems like when it came down to it, it just never worked out.
    "The biggest thing to me is incidents are going to happen because we race against each other more than 60 times a year (in Cup and Nationwide)...and we're going to run beside each other.
    "We just each have to build up a tolerance for that."
    Is this something like Rusty Wallace versus Dale Earnhardt, perhaps?
    Earnhardt Jr., in fact, was the man who gave Keselowski his first big break. And Earnhardt Jr. has supported the newcomer, though Keselowski no longer races for Earnhardt.   
    Keselowski and Earnhardt have both talked about 'confidence' as a key factor in a race driver being successful. Keselowski has said he has been working on building his own confidence.
   "To me, confidence means you've proved yourself....and I don't ever feel like I've proved myself," Keselowski says.
    "I always feel every time I get in the car is a new opportunity to prove myself."

    For Penske himself, despite all his Indy-car success, his NASCAR ventures have been only so-so lately, so he's been focused on reshaping his operation.
    Kurt Busch, the tour's 2004 champion, has been only so-so too during much of his years with Penske; but Busch has perked up considerably since bringing on Steve Addington as crew chief, and they won the Atlanta 500, though that may have been lost in the Keselowski-Edwards controversy.
    Sam Hornish, Busch's teammate the past two years, has been a major Penske project, based on their Indy-car success together; but Hornish, though showing signs of breaking through, has been erratic.
    Now Penske has added Keselowski to the mix, and Keselowski, to put it mildly, has been dynamite...as in explosive.
    Can Penske keep Keselowski under control? The newcomer (Sunday's 500 will be only his 22nd Cup start) was too much for Hendrick to handle. But Penske leaped at the opportunity to sign him.
    "Brad has only driven for us for this year....He's a terrific talent," Penske says.
    "I don't tell my drivers to 'run hard' or 'run soft.' I think he knows what he has to do on the track, with his peers. And quite honestly he's not making any statements about what he's going to do or not do. I think the media has taken some of that and moved it further, and made him with a bigger circle around him."
    Circle as in bull's eye?
   Keselowski has certainly been a lightning rod. Rivals, even Jimmie Johnson, say Keselowski has been dishing out more than he's been taking, which isn't the way things usually go in this sport.
   Penske's orders? "What I want him to do is run fair on the track and be competitive. But he's got to respect the other drivers....and they have to respect him."
   Keselowski insists he's not backing down or changing his hard racing style just because rivals may taken exception.
   Penske points out though that it's important to have a car in one piece at the end of the race. At Atlanta Keselowski was running a strong sixth in the final miles when he got dumped.
   "If you're not keeping your car under you, you're going to get yourself in trouble and not be there in the end," Penske says.
   But Atlanta, Penske says, "is behind us."
   And Penske can't seem to get all this behind him and his team fast enough.
   Still, is it all really over?
    "It's an issue that was between the two drivers....I think it mounted because of accidents that had happened," Penske said.
    "Maybe it was their fault, maybe it wasn't. Nobody got hurt.
     "I heard on the radio (at Atlanta) from the spotter 'Looks like he's trying to wreck you.'
    "I looked over in turn three, because Kurt was leading the race at that point, and I saw no contact.
     "Then I was watching Kurt going into turn one and heard them say 'yellow' on my radio. And I looked down and saw the car barrel-rolling.
     "Obviously I was concerned for Brad and his safety, and anybody else's.
     "The first thing he (Keselowski) said to me (on the radio) was 'Did anybody get hurt in the stands?'
      "That was the first thing out of Brad's mouth.
      "Then he said 'I'm fine.'"
      However Keselowski was clearly woozy when he got out of that car.
      Just another case of NASCAR 'freshman hazing,' albeit at 190 mph?
    "Brad has raced with his peers on the Nationwide series, with many of these people," Penske insists. "I think he knows how to race.
    "I've got all the respect for him.
     "He'll earn his respect in the garage area by winning and finishing strong.
     "To me, we need to put this behind us."
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   Brad Keselowski celebrating a win with then-car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I don't care what was said in

I don't care what was said in the Big Yellow Hauler, Crashalotski still owes Edwards one, and I hope he cashes in soon. When Carl learns to quit cutting down on other cars he will quit getting spun out. Somebody needs to beat that into his head.

Keselowski like Paul Tracy

Brad Keselowski reminds me of Paul Tracy when PT ran for Penske at the beginning of Tracy's Indycar/CART career. Tracy never took his foot off the gas and crashed frequently (including once while leading by two full laps!) but he won a lot of races too. To paraphrase Penske at the time, "you can teach smart, but you can't teach fast”. Keselowski and Edwards is 'let them race, boys' all the way but NASCAR has to ensure that they don't injure themselves, or much worse any spectator.

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