Carl Edwards -- hero or bully?
One face belongs to a true American success story, a country boy with a true dedication and love for racing. There’s a famous story about how, when out of a ride in his younger days, he would hand out business cards that read "Carl Edwards, race car driver," and that he bought ads in racing trade magazines that said, "Put me in your race car this weekend, have helmet will travel". This Carl Edwards has immense talent, evidenced by the fact he won his third race of the season at Texas on Sunday and is clearly a contender to win the championship this year.
The other face belongs to the driver who disrespects his teammates and comes off like a high school bully. This face was exposed last year after the fall 2007 Martinsville race, when Edwards decided, for whatever reason, to take out some of his aggression on Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. Kenseth was doing an interview in the pit lane and Edwards began pushing Kenseth and, before leaving the scene, pumped his fist backward and forward as if he was going to punch Kenseth. (Feel free to check it out on YouTube)
In the aftermath of the incident, it came out that Roush teammates Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray are all really close friends, but none of them see any need to associate with Edwards. Other drivers called him “erratic” and expressed concerns about his actions both on and off the track, noting Edwards’ temper. By many accounts, he is very far from the Mayberry character he appears to be.
Roush Racing has healed since the incident. Kenseth and Edwards are both doing very well in the standings, as are Biffle and even David Ragan.
So why do I bring this up, some will ask. The Martinsville incident, and all the other alleged incidents, happened months or years ago.
It’s not to call his talent into doubt, of course. Edwards is clearly talented and will win many races, possibly a championship, in his NASCAR career.
I bring this up because high-school level intimidation is not something a professional race car driver does to his teammates, and actions like that clearly expose the true content of someone’s character. I think many Carl Edwards fans fail to realize that Edwards is far from your “mom and apple pie” driver who does cute flips after a race.
There is nothing wrong with being a jerk in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt rubbed many people the wrong way while he was driving, but fans still loved him and Terry Labonte would still go hunting with him after the season ended, despite Earnhardt wrecking him at Bristol. Tony Stewart can be a colossal jerk, but I think he is actually good for the sport (more on that in a future column).
Edwards, and also Kyle Busch to some extent, are jerks of a different kind, in that there’s not the charm of Earnhardt or Stewart to offset their rudeness. They just come off as jerks, period.
Carl Edwards’ talent can’t be denied, but I’ll just put it this way: I don’t think many drivers want to go hunting with him once the season’s over.
It was painfully obvious from the start of the race that Jeff Gordon’s team had missed the setup in a bad way at Texas. He struggled to keep up with the rest of the field all day, and ended up dead last. The way things are shaking out at Hendrick is interesting. At the start of the year, everyone wondered whether three superstars could all get excellent equipment from the same team, and who would be the odd man out? So far this year, it’s looking like Gordon. If this keeps up, it will become obvious that he either needs better equipment or a new crew chief.
Michael McDowell is lucky to be alive after his scary-looking accident Friday at Texas. The young driver hit the wall going nearly 200 mph, then proceeded to tumble end-over-end at least a dozen times. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a wreck that bad, and the fact that he survived and had no serious injuries is a testament that NASCAR’s safety innovations, such as the Car of Tomorrow and soft walls, are doing what they are supposed to do -- save drivers’ lives. The only shame is that it took the death of the sport’s most popular driver ever to really make the effort needed to improve all aspects of driver safety. It would have been nice to see two generations of Earnhardts battle for much longer than they did.
According to my ears and the closed captions on my television, J.J. Yeley said, “I ran out of talent” when asked what caused his wreck today. Considering how strong the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car ran before his tenure there, and how well it’s running since he’s left the Gibbs organization, maybe he is on to something.