BRISTOL, Tenn. — It took roughly 40 minutes with NASCAR for Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski to put their long-simmering feud to rest.
At least that's how it appeared as the two smiling drivers exited their highly anticipated Saturday meeting at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"We laughed. We cried. In the end, I think it's going to be good," said Edwards, who playfully slapped at Keselowski's shoulder as the drivers hustled to their cars after the meeting.
NASCAR president Mike Helton summoned Edwards, Keselowski and their car owners into his at-track office to discuss a long-running feud between the drivers that exploded when Edwards intentionally wrecked Keselowski two weeks ago in Atlanta. The accident caused Keselowski's car to sail into the air before bouncing on its hood.
Although Edwards wrecked earlier in the race after contact with Keselowski, he's maintained his deliberate retaliation stemmed from animosity created from several past incidents with the young driver. Aggressive and ultra-confident, Keselowski has gone bumper-to-bumper with several veterans the past two years and refused to back down.
"This meeting wasn't about Atlanta," Helton said. "(It) wasn't about trying to fix Brad. It was about Brad and Carl's relationship. A conversation that we've had with other drivers in the past."
More than a dozen photographers and television cameras crowded the back of NASCAR's trailer to capture the drivers' exit, and the crowd followed them to pit road to meet them after their Nationwide Series qualifying laps.
They parked side-by-side after their laps — Keselowski won the pole for Saturday's race, while Edwards qualified fourth — and Edwards leaned over Keselowski's hood to speak to his rival. Then both drivers vowed to move on in their relationship.
"Hopefully it will be productive to where we can move forward and continue to race each other hard and not have any more incidents like we did at Atlanta," Keselowski said. "You have to understand that Carl and I have a mutual respect. In a sense, we're almost the same people. We come from similar backgrounds and drive the same way.
"I had a lot of respect for him before and after the accident, so hopefully that will stay the same."
What remains to be seen is how other drivers react on-track, beginning with Sunday's race at Bristol. The .0533-mile bullring is a venue that creates aggressive driving, excessive contact and extreme tempers.
Edwards begins a three-race probation period this weekend that has him under careful scrutiny from NASCAR, which won't tolerate anything out of line from him. But Keselowski still has a long list of drivers who are adamant the youngster needs to turn his aggression down a notch, and Bristol is an easy place to send a message that could go unnoticed by NASCAR officials.
"I think he'll learn. He's going to say he's going to race the same way, but I'm sure he won't," said Juan Pablo Montoya. "And if he does, somebody else will wreck him again. Race hard because you want to show you can get the job done. But you've got to learn to respect everybody."
Roger Penske, owner of Keselowski's car and one of the most respected leaders in the racing industry, vowed his support for his newest driver. Keselowski got his break in the Nationwide Series driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., spent time in development with Hendrick Motorsports, but signed with Penske last fall when a Sprint Cup Series ride with HMS didn't materialize.
Aside from the Atlanta incident, none of Keselowski's issues have occurred under the Penske banner.
"He's a terrific talent," Penske said. "I don't tell my drivers to run hard or to run soft. I think he knows what he has to do on the race track with his peers and quite honestly, he's not making any statements about what he's going to do or not do. I think the media has taken some of that and moved it further and made him with a bigger circle around him.
"What I want him to do is run fair on the race track and be competitive. But he's got to respect the other drivers. They have to respect him."