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Edwards, Keselowski offer lesson to feuding folks

May 09, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Drivers raced in close quarters at Darlington without flameup of past clashes

For a race that had more than its share of fireworks before, during and after, it seemed as the final laps unfolded that Saturday's Showtime Southern 500 might have produced even more.

After all, weren't Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards racing in close quarters?

"It is nice to just go out and race and be upset after the race for finishing second -- not for being in an altercation with someone."

--CARL EDWARDS

But instead of those two old on-track antagonists tangling again like the "old days," they gave each other the room they needed to race clean while all hell broke loose seemingly everywhere around them. So as Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and their respective teams attempted to have at it in what proved to be a counterproductive way as far as final results, Edwards and Keselowski were rewarded instead with second and third-place finishes, respectively.

The runner-up finish was somewhat bittersweet for Edwards, who led 57 laps earlier in the race and clearly had the fastest overall car among the top three finishers, which included popular race winner Regan Smith. But for Keselowski, it was his highest finish in a Sprint Cup Series event since posting his lone win at Talladega in April of 2009 -- when Edwards admittedly cut across his nose in a too-late attempt to block him as they raced for the finish line on the final lap. The end result that day sent Keselowski to Victory Lane and nearly sent Edwards' No. 99 Ford flying into the frontstretch grandstands at Talladega.

Although they have had other battles as well -- such as when Edwards retaliated for what he thought was an early and unnecessary bump from Keselowski and sent the younger driver's car soaring upside down at Atlanta in March of 2010 -- over time they've actually come to respect each other's driving abilities. This time, as they battled at one point side-by-side at one of NASCAR's most narrow and difficult tracks, both took pains to see that they didn't send the other flying through the air into temporary racing oblivion.

"I told him after the race that I thought he did a really good job -- because he did," Edwards said. "He gathered it up underneath me. I couldn't see his elbows in there, but I could imagine they were flying all over the place. I was between him and the wall -- and so I was in a safer spot if something did go wrong -- but he did a good job."

Giving room

Keselowski seemed almost a little embarrassed by his third-place finish. It was the first time all season he's finished better than 15th, and he clearly wasn't certain he deserved it.

"It was our best finish, but definitely not our best run," Keselowski said. "We were probably about a 15th-place car. We just kind of played some strategy there at the end. ... We've got a lot of work to do, but it was a good team effort to kind of get a solid finish out of a mediocre day."

He pulled it off by making the decision to stay out on old tires when Edwards, who had been leading the race and seemed fully in command, led a parade of cars onto pit road following a caution on Lap 359 of the scheduled 367-lap event. And yes, Keselowski made the call -- not Paul Wolfe, his crew chief on the No. 2 Dodge he drives for Penske Racing.

"Well, I had kind of been yelling at Paul all day," Keselowski said. "At the end, he told me to do what I wanted to do. I saw everybody pitting. I kind of figured they would all wreck on one of the last restarts, and it would come down to a green-white-checkered [finish]. It did. We caught a good break there. There are no guarantees that's going to happen."

Last year, the 27-year-old Keselowski's first full-time season at the Cup level, it took him 32 races to register his first top-10 finish. He posted his only two by placing precisely 10th in back-to-back races at Martinsville and Talladega.

For a young man who won the Nationwide Series championship in 2010 and has won 12 times at that level -- in addition to his lone Cup win and two other top-seven finishes while driving part-time for three different owners in 2009 -- it has been mightily frustrating at times.

But he knew third was about as good as it was going to get for him Saturday night at Darlington Raceway. So he was bound and determined not to bang into Edwards in what he figured was going to be a fruitless effort to keep Edwards' No. 99 Ford behind him following the final restart.

"Your thought is to just get all you can and dig and claw. I knew I was no match for Carl," Keselowski said. "His car had been way faster all night. He had two more tires than I had, which was zero."

It was a mature and thoughtful racing decision. Mature and thoughtful aren't often accurate descriptions for decisions made by most drivers during the final laps of any heated Cup race, especially one that stretched for more than 500 miles and nearly four hours at demanding Darlington.

Lesson for others?

Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose behind Keselowski and Edwards on those final laps.

Harvick got into Kyle Busch a little, and then Busch got into Harvick a lot after Harvick's teammate, Clint Bowyer, pushed the issue by trying to go three-wide. Afterward, Harvick took exception to Busch's driving methods, jumped out of his car and attempted to punch Busch through his driver's side window on pit road. Busch responded by punching the gas in his No. 18 Toyota and booting Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet out of the way.

Then the respective pit crews of both teams grappled with each other and exchanged loud, angry insults in the garage area. It finally ended with the two drivers and their respective owners in the NASCAR hauler.

Keselowski and Edwards have been there themselves, and Edwards has no illusions about being able to stay out of after-school detention for the entire remainder of his racing career.

"It is nice to just go out and race and be upset after the race for finishing second -- not for being in an altercation with someone," Edwards said. "That's kind of nice. But this is racing. You're going to have stuff like that. I think all of us out there know that can happen any time and we're prepared for that possibility.

"I haven't really paid much attention to the details of everything that's going on. That's the passion of the sport. I've been involved with my fair share of that stuff. I guess this time I'll just sit back and watch like everybody else and see what happens."

So as the night's fiercest combatants were getting their collective knuckles rapped by NASCAR officials in that hauler, Keselowski and Edwards made their way amicably to the media center per the usual custom that requires the top three finishers of the race to do so. Keselowski said he wasn't even certain what had happened behind them on the track.

"I didn't see any of the wrecks back there. I'm sure there are some angry people," he said. "It's the basic same old thing ... you line up a bunch of faster cars. They all kind of lose their heads because they have to make hay real quick. Someone is going to lose out on that deal. It sounds like that's what happened."

Will Harvick and Kyle Busch get over what happened Saturday night? Perhaps, although it's not likely anytime soon. Will Ryan Newman or Brian Vickers or Jimmie Johnson be inviting Juan Montoya to lunch? Um, perhaps never.

But Edwards and Keselowski served as reminders Saturday that good things can happen to on-track adversaries when cooler heads prevail despite whatever may have happened in the past. It is a lesson that may need to be reviewed by others in the Cup garage.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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