BRISTOL, Tenn. — Carl Edwards is personable and polite, always approachable. When he talks on camera, he makes sure to take his sunglasses off so the audience can see him clearly.
Edwards attributes it to being raised right.
Others have doubted his motives, and Tony Stewart once even described Edwards as the Eddie Haskell of NASCAR.
A deliberate accident with Brad Keselowski two weeks ago at Atlanta has Edwards once again being scrutinized. For all the talk about Keselowski being too aggressive and making too many enemies, there are just as many accusations that Edwards is a phoney who suffers from anger management issues.
Edwards, somewhat silent since the March 7 incident, vigorously defended his character Friday.
“That’s all they can say about me because it’s hard for them to accept that I am a decent guy,” Edwards said moments before climbing into his car at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Edwards found himself back in the spotlight because of the Atlanta wreck with Keselowski. Publicly, Kevin Harvick called Edwards “fake as hell” this week in a radio interview, while others have privately wondered about the veteran driver’s ability to control his anger.
Harvick feuded with Edwards two seasons ago and didn’t back off his “fake” assessment of Edwards when asked about it on Friday.
“As far as the fake comment,” he began, “you can’t be the nice guy, you can’t be the bad guy, and you can’t be the bully. So, I mean, that’s just how I feel about that.”
Edwards quickly fired back when asked about Harvick’s remark.
“I have absolutely no respect for Kevin Harvick,” he said. “I think he’s a bad person. That’s my opinion. I’ve told him that. We’ve had our deal before and his actions through that interaction were so devious and underhanded and cowardly that, it’s like, I just have no respect for him.
“When people like that question me, it makes me feel better because if those people were lined up patting me on the back I’d be on the wrong side of what’s right and wrong. And I truly believe that.”
And just like that, the feud between Edwards and Keselowski became overshadowed by the mutual dislike between Edwards and Harvick. Their rivalry dates to October 2008, when both were in the thick of the championship race.
Harvick criticized Edwards on national TV after Edwards triggered an accident at Talladega, and Edwards responded by leaving a sarcastic note on Harvick’s airplane. A week later, Edwards confronted Harvick in the garage at Charlotte, and it quickly turned physical. Photographs of the incident showed Edwards grabbing Harvick around the throat, and the two had to be separated by Harvick’s crew members.
It wasn’t the first time Edwards was caught in an unflattering moment. TV cameras were present in 2007 when he confronted Matt Kenseth after a race in Martinsville. After brief words, Edwards raised his fist as if he was going to punch his Roush Fenway Racing teammate.
It’s those flashes that have created a stir about Edwards’ ability to manage his anger.
Asked if he had an anger issue Friday, he chuckled and said “No.”
“It’s really simple: I treat everyone the best way I can possibly treat them, that’s the way I was raised, but I stand up for myself,” he said. “I am not trying to be a good guy or a bad guy, that’s just who I am.
“All those people that say whatever they say, know that if I have an issue with them, I go speak to them. I don’t run around behind their back and talk like little girls. That’s what a lot of them do. I learned that wasn’t cool in about fifth grade.”
Edwards has his share of supporters in the garage.
“I’m not Dr. Phil. I don’t know what you think about Carl,” said former Roush teammate Mark Martin. “I think Carl is a standup guy and a really, really fine young man. I think that he sure didn’t mean for that to happen.”
Martin was referring to Keselowski’s car going airborne in the Atlanta wreck. It was a spectacular flip that brought a crush of attention to what otherwise might have been routine bumping-and-banging between rival drivers.
Instead, there was a cry from Keselowski and others for NASCAR to swiftly punish Edwards. The sanctioning body, which is promoting a “boys, have at it” attitude of self-policing this season, instead placed Edwards on probation for three races.
He’s scheduled to meet with NASCAR officials, Keselowski and their respective car owners Saturday at Bristol, and declined to discuss the accident until after they talk.
But team owner Jack Roush is clearly on Edwards’ side.
“I do not condone what Carl did, but I do understand it,” he said. “Brad Keselowski wrecked Carl three times if anybody was watching. If my driver had wrecked somebody three times, I would have had issue with that from my side.”