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From The Marbles

With one Saturday night, the way we view on-track confrontations changed

Tony Stewart Matt Kenseth Bristol
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Aug 25, 2012; Bristol, TN, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (17) and driver Tony Stewart (14) crash during the IRWIN Tools Night Race a Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE

If you're a racing fan, there's a bunch of them etched into your memory. Maybe you remember the first time you saw one live. Maybe it's because you've seen one over and over again on highlights throughout the years. Maybe because it involved your favorite driver.

What are "they," exactly? They're this:

And this:

And this:

Or, in printed form, it's when a driver on foot goes near another driver driving his car to express his displeasure.

Those moments of confrontation have elicited excitement, conjured up drama and added intrigue to NASCAR. And now we know how tragic they can be after Tony Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Saturday night in a dirt track race after Ward exited his car to confront Stewart.

After a crash at a short track like Bristol, when there's a history of dislike between two drivers or if it's something that looked a bit out of the ordinary, the intrigue between the moment the wrecked driver exits his race car and he goes to take the mandatory trip in the ambulance has always built suspense. Would the wrecked driver gesture at the driver he felt wronged him? Throw a helmet? Could whatever happens even go so far as to spawn a new feud? Or would the suspense be for naught, and would the driver do nothing?

After all, most crashes are attributed to "one of them racin' deals." That's what made the confrontations so extraordinary.

Now we unfortunately know the answer to a question none of us wanted to ask after a driver exits his car to go after another: What's the worst-case scenario in a literal conflict of man vs. machine?

There's a reason feuds and conflicts have become one of the sport's calling cards; in some way, we're all attracted to the sport because of them. However, emotions can be dangerous, and when combined with motor vehicles, the danger is only amplified. Road rage exists on both the highway and the race track.

No matter the circumstances that surround Saturday night's incident, it's a horrible, horrible tragedy. And it now serves as a perpetual reminder of the amplification. Will it serve as a trigger for drivers to bottle up the displeasure and save it for later? With the absence of clear rational thought in situations like these, it's impossible to guess.

For all of us that watch, however, it's going to be hard to see new and old incidents without thinking about Ward and Stewart. A symbol of what can make racing great now has a high-profile and tangible outcome that's impossible to ignore.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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