HAMPTON, Ga. — When NASCAR officials told the drivers to "have at it," this surely wasn't what they had in mind.
A feud between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski boiled over Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, leading to another frightening crash that sent a car hurtling toward the grandstands.
Edwards had gotten a nudge from Keselowski early in the race that ruined the No. 99 car's day, and there already was history between the two from a spectacular wreck last year at Talladega that nearly catapulted Edwards' car into the crowd.
Whatever the motives, the two clashed again with three laps to go in the Kobalt Tools 500.
Trailing the leaders by 156 laps, Edwards tapped Keselowski's car as they came to the start-finish line. Keselowski, who was in contention for a top-five finish, went into a spin, then flipped upside down and slammed into the barrier in front of the stands with the roof. The crushed car flipped back onto the track, landing right side.
Keselowski, who was not injured, accused Edwards of taking him out intentionally.
"It will be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts to it. They have the ball," Keselowski said. "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. It's not cool to wreck someone intentionally at 195 mph."
After the crash, NASCAR ordered Edwards off the track. He drove defiantly around the quarter-mile track in front of the stands and went backward down the pit lane before meeting privately with series officials in their trailer.
Climbing from the car, he didn't even bother with a denial.
"Brad knows the deal between him and I," Edwards said. "The scary part is the car went airborne, which was not what I expected. At the end of the day, we're out here to race and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of respect for people's safety.
"I wish it wouldn't have gone like that, but I'm glad he's OK and we'll just go on and race some more and maybe him and I won't get in any more incidents together. That would be the best thing."
Whether Edwards will be racing in two weeks at Bristol is up to NASCAR. While suspensions are rare in a sport that rewards consistency and being on the track for every race, they're not unprecedented.
In 2007, Robby Gordon spun out Marcus Ambrose during a Nationwide series race in Montreal and was suspended for the following day's Cup event at Pocono. That same year, truck driver Ted Musgrave was ordered to sit out a race for hitting a competitor during a caution period.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said there would be no decision on possible penalties until Monday or Tuesday.
"I would say there seems to be a history between those two drivers," Pemberton said. "I'm not going to go any further into it right now."
NASCAR finds itself in a tough spot. Before the season, the governing body encouraged drivers to show more aggression and emotion, in large part to answer a growing fan sentiment that the sport had gone stale. Pemberton himself said, "We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say 'Boys, have at it and have a good time.'"
Last April, Keselowski and Edwards were racing for the win in a tightly bunched pack at Talladega when their cars got together. Edwards spun into Ryan Newman's path, and the second hit sent Edwards' car soaring toward the main stands, ripping out chunks of the safety fencing.
While the battered car was slung back onto the track and Edwards was OK, seven fans were injured by flying debris.
"At least I didn't do it intentionally when it happened," Keselowski said.
The two scrapped again in Atlanta. Early on, Keselowski got underneath Edwards coming through turns one and two, which sent the No. 99 car careening into Joey Logano along the outside wall.
While his car was being repaired, Edwards complained that Keselowski "never gives any room at all" but sounded as though he wasn't too upset about the incident.
Keselowski defended his actions in the first incident.
"He cut down on me on a restart and I lifted (off the accelerator). I couldn't lift fast enough," he said. "I was underneath him and tried to cut him a break. It was too late, though. He turned down. I apologized to him, but there was nothing that I could do in that situation."