The 'Big One' signals need for big change

Carl Edwards said it.

"We'll race like this until we kill somebody, then [NASCAR] will change it."

Of course at that point it will be too late for that somebody, but in the meantime at least we'll get to see a good show, right?

Seven people were injured Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, victims of the spectacular last-lap crash that saw Edwards' 3,400-pound race car spiraling through the air, then slamming into the catch fence that separated him from fans only a few feet away.

That, not Brad Keselowski winning his first Sprint Cup Series race, is what will be remembered about the Aaron's 499. Most who were there left the track ecstatic, even if Dale Earnhardt Jr. did wind up second, because they got to see the best race of the season.

But at what cost?

The injuries to the seven fans were said to be only minor, reportedly a broken jaw being the heftiest price paid. But as Edwards said, it's only a matter of time before the price of admission goes up.

This isn't to say a finger should be pointed at NASCAR. There's an inherent danger whenever you put 43 cars on a racetrack that's surrounded by thousands of fans who choose to be so close to the action they're pelted with bits of tire rubber every time the cars go by. It's just that the danger goes up every time the tour hits Daytona and Talladega, because these two tracks are different.

Since 1988, NASCAR has demanded that a restrictor plate be put on the engines of all 43 cars at its two superspeedways – Daytona and Talladega. This is done for safety reasons, because if the engines went unrestricted, the cars would push upward of 220 mph, which is too fast to keep the cars on the ground if a car ever gets sideways.

But as with most things, one person's fix is another's problem, and in the case of restrictor plates it means that the cars are running at essentially the same horsepower. And that means that instead of being strung out around a 2.66-mile oval, they're running in a tight, 43-car pack, where one minor slip can set off a melee that can take out a huge chunk of the field, which happened twice on Sunday.

These multi-car wrecks are known as the "Big One," and they're the most celebrated thing in NASCAR. Fans love them because they're spectacular; media love them because they attract huge attention. Lowe's Motor Speedway even held a promotion where it will sell tickets to an upcoming race for a price equal to the number of cars involved in the biggest Big One at Talladega. In this case, tickets will cost $14.

Of course, drivers hate them.

"We have had wrecks like this every time we come to Talladega, ever since the plate got here, and for years it was celebrated," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The media celebrated it; the network celebrated it, calling it the Big One, just trying to attract attention and trying to bring people's attention to the race.

"So there's a responsibility with the media and the networks and the sanctioning body itself to come to their senses a little bit and think about, you know, the situation."

He's right. As soon as Sunday's race was over, we here at Yahoo! Sports went into tactical mode, scrambling to get the video of Edwards' crash on our site as soon as possible. We did, and already hundreds of thousands of you have watched it.

"You know, you can't sit here and jump up and go, 'Wow, what I saw today was crazy,' " Earnhardt continued. "I don't think it's right, unless you're a driver, because the media and the networks and everybody has been celebrating that stuff for years.

"I think we [drivers] have been saying this for years, racing like this is not a whole lot of fun. It's just something we have to do because we have to go out there and race."

Earnhardt concedes NASCAR is in a tough position, because he realizes the restrictor plate is actually a safety precaution.

On top of this, Sprint Cup racing has been less than stellar since last season's introduction of the Car of Tomorrow, which has left a hardcore fan base screaming for more of the bumper-to-bumper racing that drew them to the sport in the first place.

Talladega may not be the purest form of racing, but it does excite.

So what's NASCAR to do? Tear up the two superspeedways, which team owner Jack Roush said Sunday aren't configured to handle today's cars?

That's not likely, especially considering the historical place Daytona and Talladega hold in the sport.

"I guess we'll do this until somebody gets killed and then we'll change it," Edwards repeated, "but that's the way it is."