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The meeting, Carl and Brad...and Jack Roush's Take:

 Peace talks: Brad Keselowski (L) and Carl Edwards emerging from the NASCAR hauler after Saturday morning meeting to discuss their differences (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   So NASCAR racing just needs a good feud or two to put the spark back in this sport of stock car racing?
   Well, things might have gone just a little too far in the last few weeks.
   So Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski went face-to-face Saturday morning in the NASCAR hauler, the latest part of NASCAR moves to defuse the volatile situation, which led to that potentially catastrophic crash at Atlanta two weeks ago.
   Also in the meeting were their car owners, Jack Roush and Roger Penske.
   So, how did it go, Carl?
   "Everything went really well," Edwards says.
   "I think the biggest thing coming out of that meeting is that now -- I think -- Brad and I understand one another a little better. 
   "I think we're going to be able to go forward and go racing...and that's what this is all about. 
   "It was really cool to be able to talk with Jack and Roger and Brad all at once. 
    "We laughed, we cried.
     "In the end, I think it's going to be good."
    Sometimes these face-to-face meetings in the NASCAR hauler don't turn out all that smoothly, as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch may recall.
    The Atlanta run-in was the third major incident between the two. The most dramatic was one year ago at Talladega when the two were battling for the win the last lap and they crashed and Edwards got airborne. Keselowski, then driving for a Rick Hendrick-supported team, won the race.
   Edwards has been on the tour since the summer of 2004; Keselowski is a newcomer, just turned 26, with only 21 Cup races under his belt.
   This particular debate, raging now for two weeks, has focused on
   -- Keselowski's hard-driving, which has angered several drivers, including Denny Hamlin (who deliberately crashed Keselowski at Homestead last fall, after vowing pre-race to do just that);
   -- on Edwards' own angry run-ins during his career – with Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart among them;
   -- and on NASCAR's handling of things, beginning with its pre-season declaration 'Boys, have at it.'

  Team owner Jack Roush: not condoning Carl Edwards' actions at Atlanta, but understanding (Photo: Autostock) 


   Roush says he's made clear to Edwards that "I did not condone what he did....but I did understand it."
    Roush made clearer that, regardless of what a couple of drivers might feel about each other, "The ultimate responsibility that we all have --  NASCAR,, the owners, and the drivers – is to keep everybody safe in this business. 
     "It's a sport that needs to be contentious...but it needs to be safe too. And we've got to be careful to respect that line."
     Roush says he and Penske are eye-to-eye on all this. And Roush says he's confident things should be cooler now between the two drivers: "Carl and Brad both said things that would indicate they're willing to put it behind them and let bygones be bygones...give one another racing room.
   "And that's what's needed. They need to give one another a little extra room for a while."
    However Roush concedes that the two drivers still have their differences and don't agree on things: "But I think that they will give one another enough respect that we won't see another occurrence like that. 
    "I think Carl is not likely to have incidental contact with Brad and cause a wreck...and I think Brad is not like to have incidental contact with Carl and cause a wreck in the foreseeable future."
   One major question, of course, is where is the line that a driver may not cross. Some have worried that if NASCAR didn't see that line at Atlanta, then maybe there really is no line, and retaliation is the order of the day. Juan Pablo Montoya: "It's pretty clear. If you wreck somebody you've got to expect that they're
going to get you back. And when somebody wrecks you, you're going to
wreck them back."

    Another major question perhaps, out in America at large, is this sport itself – are officials going too far, in trying to pump up ticket sales and TV ratings. Texas Motor Speedway is unabashedly using the Edwards-Keselowski 'feud' to sell tickets to next month's Texas 500.
   While NASCAR's TV ratings have been the stuff of great debate lately, with some insisting too much is made of those numbers, TV is still one key indicator of how people are viewing this sport. So Atlanta's 'up' numbers, though just two percent from 2009, are seen as perhaps a critical turning point, since that 500 marked the first weekend NASCAR didn't have to compete against the Olympics. And NASCAR's show was that weekend's highest-rated sporting event.
   Even more important, for this Bristol event and next week's Martinsville stop, is that the Atlanta numbers were up sharply in the Southeast: up a whopping 32 percent in Charlotte, up 26 percent in Winston-Salem/Greensboro, and even up 25 percent in Atlanta itself.
   That should bode well for ticket sales at these two tracks.
   Of course, hanging over all drivers right now is the specter of what might happen at these two tour short tracks, Bristol and Martinsville, where action can get easily out of hand, and usually does.
   Did Atlanta sober these drivers? Or will that precedent – Edwards was given just three-race probation, which is little more than a slap on the wrist, and Keselowski was not penalized at all – open the door to more angry retaliation? Or will drivers – looking ahead to the 12-man championship chase this fall, and the need to make that Labor Day week playoff cut – decide to play a little nicer, rather than risk losing a ton of points.
   Edwards, who has come close to winning the NASCAR title several times, should be a top contender again this season.
   With Keselowski such an obvious victim in the second Atlanta crash, Edwards has borne much of the brunt of publicity in the matter, including a lead item in Diane Sawyer's ABC evening news program in which she seemed incredulous that a driver would deliberate wreck another.
   So Edwards, though he may have the 'high ground' among some fellow drivers in the garage for 'teaching' the rookie a lesson, has hopes of putting this entire escapade behind him as quickly as possible.
    Edwards has a 'media darling' over the years, for a sparkling personality, a penchant for winning (nine tour wins in 2008), and his trademark victory backflips.
   However the media pressure the past two weeks has been telling. "I guess this is just part of life and part of the way things go, especially with the way the media works," Edwards says wearily. 
    "Sometimes people don't understand everything that's going on. 
    "It's interesting, I'll say that."
    Rivals here, though they might intuitively support Edwards' 'payback,' have expressed considerable alarm at the ensuing flipping crash at Atlanta, where Keselowski – in another era, before all the current safety devices in these cars – might have been killed or seriously injured, and where that car might easily have landed in the grandstands.
    Edwards says people may not really understand just what went on at Atlanta: "It's very hard for people to understand that the result is far different from the intent. 
    "Things can be presented in a lot of ways...but I guess that's just part of it."
    While Edwards says he did turn Keselowski at Atlanta, he insists he didn't foresee the dramatic consequences.
    And Edwards says his side of the story may not have been portrayed that accurately: "What's most interesting to me is that sometimes it's about selling ad time or newspapers, and it's not about explaining the story."
    If Keselowski is too hard a driver, for a newcomer, Edwards' own reputation as sometimes too angry has also been played up in all this, his various run-ins.
    Kevin Harvick -- the current Sprint Cup tour points leader and a man who has had a few run-ins with Edwards (those infamous photos of holding Harvick by the throat at Charlotte a few years back, and that TV footage of Edwards' post-Martinsville altercation with teammate Kenseth have become prominent again) – is currently on Edwards' list of dislikes, for that radio blurb Wednesday.
   Edwards insists he doesn't have an angry streak. "I think some people would like that to be the case...but let me put it this way: it's real easy to stand back and throw stones at someone and make little chirps and say things that make you feel better about yourself, but the people who know me know that I'm a very fair person. 
    "I guess if my biggest fault is standing up for myself, I'll take it.  They can fault me all day for that."


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  And, in yet another curious twist, Brad Keselowski rebounded Saturday from Friday's Cup spinout to win the pole for the Scotts 300 Nationwide event...and, ummmm, Carl Edwards is not only sponsored by Scotts but also leads the Nationwide standings, by just a few points over Keselowski. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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