Revenge in the world of sports can come in many forms. It can be hitting a home run off a pitcher who just brushed you back with an inside pitch. It can be hitting a 3-pointer in your defender's face. Or it can be going after an opposing player with the intent to pound the heck out of him.
Boston hockey fans angry with Matt Cooke's blindsided elbow and shoulder to the head of a defenseless Marc Savard in Sunday's Penguins-Bruins game were hoping for something along the lines of Door No. 3. The Bruins — and their fans — will get the chance in the March 18 rematch with the Pens at TD Garden.
But a somewhat similar scenario played out on the NASCAR track Sunday in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
First off, early in the race, Brad Keselowski's No. 12 clipped the back of Carl Edwards' No. 99 car, sending him careening up the track and into Joey Logano. Edwards and Logano both sustained damage and went to pit road, while Keselowski flew by unscathed. Logano got back out on the track, but still finished 35th, 18 laps behind the leaders. Edwards, meanwhile, went more than 100 laps down.
But wait a second. Much like Cooke's dangerous hit on Savard, this wasn't the first time the initiator of the violent act had performed inappropriately. Keselowski had traded paint with Edwards before, we found out: The youngster famously spun Edwards out and sent him airborne and into the catchfence at Talladega last spring before going on to win the race, his first career Sprint Cup victory.
So, on Sunday in Atlanta, after effectively being taken out of the race by Keselowski's bump, Edwards had seen enough. When he eventually got the No. 99 back on the track, he was well behind the leaders. Still, amazingly, he found himself again racing two wide with Keselowski, who was in sixth place at the time.
Heading into a turn, Edwards made an aggressive crossover move to the inside of Keselowski, and as the No. 12 came back down the track in the straightaway, Edwards appeared to move back up toward Keselowski and clipped his left rear side. This time, it was Keselowski's car that was sent airborne, spinning once and flipping upside down before smashing hard into the wall. The No. 12 then flipped back right-side up and came to a rest.
Keselowski was OK, though he seemed a bit dazed and confused following the crash. "Did I just fly?" he asked his crew chief over the radio.
The caution flag obviously came out and Kurt Busch ended up winning the race. Keselowski finished 36th, Edwards 39th.
Targeted by reporters after the race, Edwards didn't pull any punches about his rivalry with Keselowski.
"Brad knows the deal between him and I. The scary part is that his car went airborne, which was not at all what I [pause] expected."
But Keselowski was less forgiving in his post-race comments.
"It could have killed somebody in the grandstands," he said. "I know that's a little ironic that it's got me saying that [given his history of tangling with Edwards], but at least I didn't do it intentionally when it happened. It will be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts to it. They have the ball. If they're going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast, we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands."
"My options?" he wrote (all sic). "Considering that Brad wrecks me with no regard for anyone's safety or hard work, should I: A-Keep letting him wreck me? B-Confront him after the race? C-Wait til bristol and collect other cars? or D-Take care of it now? I want to be clear that I was surprised at his flight and very relieved when he walked away. Every person has to decide what code they want to live by and hopefully this explains mine."
For all intents and purposes, Edwards admitted to using vigilante justice to settle the score with Keselowski. And as The Associated Press pointed out in a story published Monday, it's a particularly difficult case for NASCAR to deal with because they've "opened the year with a relaxed ‘boys, have at it' attitude," expecting that a laissez-faire approach to contact between cars would make for more captivating viewing for its audience.
Like hockey, lots of fans love NASCAR for the potential of seeing aggression and brutality on the playing field. What fights and big hits are to the NHL, bumping and nudging are to the stock-car circuit. Sure, fans love it, but it can get dangerous. Both sports thrive on that fine line between entertainment and violence.
Some say Keselowski deserved payback for continually walking — and often overstepping — that fine line. Many have said the same about Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke in the last few days.
Others might say that Edwards should not have sought revenge and that he instead only sunk to Keselowski's level by bumping him later in the race. They argue that NASCAR will dole out some penalty to Edwards — and possibly Keselowski, as well — in the coming days. By that rationale, the Bruins handled themselves appropriately, waiting for the NHL to dish out its own version of justice.
Following his crash, it appears that Keselowski will be fine. Savard, though, suffered a Grade 2 concussion. His long-term prognosis remains unclear.
Violence along either of these lines may make for compelling television viewing, but the injuries that can and have resulted only serve to hurt the viability of both sports. How long will it be before something even more serious happens?
Of course, Edwards didn't expect to send Keselowski flying on Sunday, but when cars are traveling at nearly 200 mph, you can't predict exactly what's going to happen when they make contact. Claiming innocence because it wasn't your intention to hurt someone doesn't quite cut it. Frankly, Edwards got lucky, like Keselowski suggested, that no one was seriously injured.
By the same token, Bruins fans may be fuming at the team's inability to get back at Cooke on Sunday. But imagine if a vengeful, crushing hit on the Penguins forward had, say, paralyzed him. How would those payback-seeking fans feel then?
Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say. But, for the wisest among us, maybe revenge is a dish best not served at all.
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