From the Marbles - NASCAR

Every time NASCAR comes to Talladega, drivers and fans alike know that "The Big One" -- a wreck that decimates a huge chunk of the field -- lurks around every turn. And every time, The Big One rears up and collects cars by the dozen.

The collisions at Talladega are both spectacular and terrifying; the bump that sent Carl Edwards flying into the fence in April still stands as one of NASCAR's most wrenching wrecks. Sunday at the Amp Energy 500, Ryan Newman drew the short straw, and his flipping, pancaking late-race wreck was, without a doubt, the scariest since Edwards:

For long minutes, Newman's car sat upside down with no word from within. And for long minutes, NASCAR fans feared the worst; sure, the cars are safer, but Newman landed smack on his roof! Just how tough could those cars be?

Finally, Newman spoke and confirmed that he wasn't injured. Crews flipped over the car and opened it like a tuna can, and Newman climbed out as if he was just getting out of bed. And once he'd collected himself, he had some pointed words for NASCAR and the fans who look forward to the wrecks: "That's not something anybody wants to see, at least I hope not," he said. "If they do, go home, because you don't belong here."

As bad as Newman's wreck was, however, it was about to get worse for the rest of the field.

With two laps to go and nearly two dozen cars within one second of the lead, someone -- perhaps it was Brian Vickers; perhaps it was Brad Keselowski, who sent Edwards into the wall in the spring -- got antsy and made a charge that sent Kurt Busch spinning. And from there, it was on:

As it turned out, this Big One may well have cemented Jimmie Johnson's unprecedented run for a fourth straight title; his closest pursuers, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, were both caught up in the 13-car wreck and ended the race farther behind Johnson than when the day began.

Wrecks are part of the thrill of NASCAR, an essential element of the overall storyline. But watching the Newman wreck, like the Edwards one before it, the queasiness starts to set in. NASCAR hasn't had an in-race fatality in the Sprint series since Dale Earnhardt died at the Daytona 500 in 2001. Is the sport safer, or is it living on borrowed time?

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