INDIANAPOLIS -- It's difficult to believe some dangerous on-track moments of NASCAR racing -- like racing back to a caution flag -- once were ruled by a gentlemen's agreement among drivers.
These days, some drivers would be hard-pressed to call some competitors gentlemen, let alone rely upon them to do the right thing when circumstances dictated. In fact, you can't even get drivers to agree on why they are getting penalized.
Such is life in NASCAR's era of "boys, have at it" racing.
The premise sounded good: Get NASCAR out of the way of drivers settling differences between themselves and rely more upon self-policing on the track.
And despite sluggish TV ratings, the action on the track has been better this season than during recent years.
Yet NASCAR's unwillingness to issue stern penalties even when drivers openly and brazenly wreck competitors intentionally provides an interesting quagmire.
What if, unlike Carl Edwards or Brad Keselowski, you're a driver unwilling to race in a way that tests NASCAR's penalty trigger finger?
As the Sprint Cup Series draws closer to the 26-race cutoff to set the 12-driver Chase for the Cup, are drivers who are willing to do anything for a win in an inherently better position than those who are not?
Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should provide a clue as several drivers are hovering around the top 12 and still hoping to get a chance at running for this season's championship.
"The more aggressive you are, the more aggressive you treat your competitors, the more chance is that you're going to have a bad finish and with our points system, you can't afford that," said driver Denny Hamlin.
Asked if drivers were more willing to do anything to win, Hamlin thought it unlikely.
"In my mind it's not worth it, especially for a race in the Cup series," he said. "You get 10 points for the Chase (if you win), that's like three spots in a Chase race.
"I don't think I would be willing to do it, but to each his own I guess."
Keselowski, who last week was placed on probation for the remainder of the season for running into Edwards on the final lap of last weekend's Nationwide race, said fast cars still are preferred over hitting competitors out of the way.
"That's why everyone is so envious of Jimmie Johnson," he said. "It still comes down to the end that you have to have fast race cars.
"Kurt (Busch) made a pretty cool, aggressive move at Loudon (N.H.) to get by Jimmie, but at the end it was for naught because Jimmie was able to go right back by him. When you have fast race cars, you are still capable of winning."
The willingness of drivers to test the boundaries of NASCAR's "boys, have at it" edict and NASCAR's recent responses to questionable on-track incidents seem to trouble some longtime veterans.
"I think it's clear to everybody that short of maybe intentionally wrecking somebody several times, everybody knows if you want to knock somebody out of the way -- you can do that," said driver Jeff Burton.
"I think it's clear that's acceptable. But that doesn't make it right. There are still ethics involved. I think relationships matter in this sport.
"At the end of the day, I still believe you have to drive with respect and that what you give, at some point you will get back. My whole career I've heard, 'You could have won more races if you had wrecked more people.'
"Yet I can go back and see a lot of races that I won because I did not get wrecked."
Johnson doesn't think driver retaliation and the NASCAR response -- or lack thereof -- necessarily guides the actions of drivers.
"If you're mad enough, it's not going to matter what NASCAR's judgment is going to be or what the fines are going to be or if they approve of it or not, you're going to take action in your own hands," Johnson said.
"As things have progressed with (Edwards and Keselowski), it's come to the point where Carl is saying 'To hell with it, I'm not letting it happen again.'
Edwards seemed to subscribe to this idea when he described his situation Friday with Keselowski.
"I race hard and I'm not going to let somebody take advantage of me, that's for sure," he said. "I've proven that and I've been consistent about it."