Who knew that the driver who exploded onto the NASCAR scene in 2005 and quickly became known as the ?nice guy? could turn into NASCAR?s proverbial bad boy 5 years later. Ironically his emergence into each character began in the March race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Few could forget the back to back wins that marked his first win in the Cup and (then) Busch Series.
His ?Aw, shucks? and always friendly persona instantly won him a place in every NASCAR fan?s heart and allowed his occasionally run-ins with other drivers, including a teammate, to be brushed over and forgotten. Rumors of his private relationships with teammates cast doubt over his reputation that began to settle down as another episode of a fight with Kevin Harvick in late 2008 erupted.
Confused and perplexed, everyone waited to see what would happen next. Coinciding with the beginning of 2009, things seemed to have quieted down entirely, but one event seemed to set the stage for this year. While racing for the win on the last lap of the April Talladega race, Carl threw a big block on Brad Keselowski, was clipped and catapulted into the catchfence. Carl brushed it off as a racing incident and predominantly took the blame.
As Brad Keselowski reaped lots of criticism for his driving in the Nationwide series the rest of the year, Carl lay low. Fast forward to March 2010 when close racing sent Carl into the wall and to the garage. Still enraged by what he thought to be intentional or at the least avoidable contact by ?BK?, Carl returned to the track with his battered car and made sure Brad got his due. He just didn?t bargain that Brad?s car would launch into the air and land upside down on the wall, bringing out the caution and completely changing the end of the race. His somewhat apologetic attitude and a general consensus that the incident might have knocked some sense into Brad made it difficult to entirely brand him with his new identity.
Although most agreed Carl?s punishment (three race probation) did not fit the crime, some benefit of the doubt made the subject a hot topic as everyone hoped Carl would now move on. Three and a half months later, it was clear he hadn?t. Close racing on the last lap at Gateway in turns 1 and 2, after Carl and Brad had dominated the race, pushed both drivers up the track and gave Brad a small advantage coming off of turn 4. Before BK and all of the fans in the stands knew what was happening, he found himself nose first into the outside wall and sitting across the track with the whole field coming at him while Carl blew across the line first.
Whatever leeway Carl still had after Atlanta was all taken away as he stated ?I just couldn't let him take the win from me? in victory lane. His brash and unapologetic stand brought a penalty down on him that essentially negated what ground he had gained on his rival in the points race. Thankfully NASCAR also handed down probation until the end of the year that might just spare Penske from having to fix several more heavily damaged cars.
Over the past 3 weeks, I have thought about this from every angle possible and can see nothing that Brad Keselowski really did wrong in regards to Carl. Yes, he made some mistakes and ran hard, but isn?t that why it is called ?racing?? Carl, on the other hand, seems to have a mental block he can?t seem to get past with Brad. He has not had problems with any other driver on track and apparently thinks the only reason Brad exists is to make his life miserable. Perhaps as he lays low these next three months, he will realize that is not the case and in 2011 BK?s dad won?t have to worry about him as much.
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