What do you suppose would happen to me if I became enraged when someone cut me off in highway traffic, I followed the offending driver and then pushed him off the road at, say, 70 miles per hour?
I'd be in jail, facing multiple felonies, of course.
But if I was wearing a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver's uniform and going, say, 190 miles per hour, I'd be in the next race, with a comparatively light three-race probation hanging over my head.
Problematic? You bet.
I’ve long maintained that NASCAR turns a blind eye to drivers in its top series beating and banging on each other.
The point was driven home yet again in Atlanta last Sunday when Carl Edwards, who was a light year behind in the Sprint Cup race, rolled back out onto the track and bumped fellow competitor Brad Keselowski’s car, turning it into an out-of-control 175 mph missile.
The penalty for Edwards: a three-race probation.
A National Basketball Association player gets a suspension for simply leaving the bench during a fight on the floor. But Edwards will get to keep playing. I'm not singling out Edwards. He's just one in the long gray line of NASCAR drivers who have deliberately crashed out another driver while traveling at high speed.
Much as it denies it, NASCAR takes the same approach to driver retaliations as the National Hockey League does to fighting. It’s tolerated, seemingly because it has always been a part of the sport. And let’s face it, many fans find it entertaining.
With NHL fighting, the consequeces are typically a black eye, a bloodied nose or a fat lip. When 3,500-pound NASCAR race cars are flying through the air at 175 mph, the consequences could be far worse.
What happens if a driver gets killed? Or a fan in the stands? That's the kind of situation that could send a sport into a tailspin for years.
If NASCAR really wanted to stop this, it could.
It could say that any case of obvious driver retaliation will be met with a five-race suspension penalty. That means five races of an entire race team sitting on the sidelines in the ultra-competitive series, and five races with your sponsor’s name not out there, the same sponsor who put up millions to have his/her name out there.
Second violation, 10 races. Third violation, a year.
Those moves would stop the dangerous driving overnight. And rightly so. It seems like drivers in 200 mph missiles should face something more severe than a brief probation when they lose their tempers.