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Yellow-line rule the real culprit at Dega

With one little change, the car of Carl Edwards doesn't become a flying missile heading toward the grandstands injuring fans, as it did Sunday at Talladega.

Eliminate the yellow-line rule.

Sometimes in racing, you have to choose the lesser of two evils. The bigger evil today in restrictor-plate racing is the yellow-line boundary. It is causing more accidents than it prevents.

Drivers can't make a pass below the line. But no change is coming.

"The yellow-line rule has been very effective in controlling some of the huge wrecks we used to have," Sprint Cup director John Darby said Monday. "The rule has at least made the width of the racetrack consistent all the way around, so the competitors know how much real estate there is to use."

Not enough real estate, as was the case Sunday.

NASCAR officials said in a Monday conference call they would hand out more penalties if necessary to try to keep things safe.

This was a "remain calm, we're in control" message -- spin control less than 24 hours after another Talladega day of danger.

Seven spectators were injured (six with minor cuts and bruises and one with a broken jaw) when the airborne No. 99 Ford of Edwards slammed into the frontstretch catch fence and sprayed debris into the crowd on the final lap.

So NASCAR officials, to their credit, addressed the issue. They will make more judgment calls on aggressive driving, reckless bump-drafting and blocking at Dega and Daytona, the two restrictor-plate tracks.

Great. Only one problem: We've heard it all before.

A big wreck happens in a plate race and NASCAR officials say they're taking a get-tough policy. It's old news.

This concept wouldn't have changed a thing about the ending of the Aaron's 499 because, technically speaking, no one did anything wrong.

Edwards tried to protect his position as the leader and didn't see that Brad Keselowski had gotten under him. Keselowski held his position and didn't go below the yellow line, so the cars collided.

The horrifying wreck ensued and Keselowski won the race. Nothing NASCAR officials said Monday would have changed that from happening.

Could the wreck have been avoided without the yellow-line rule?

"I don't know if that's really a question," Keselowski said after the race. "I think that's more of a statement of fact."

Not everyone agrees. Both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman said the boundary line didn't matter.

I respectfully disagree. Without the artificial boundary, the mindset of both drivers would be different.

Edwards still would have tried to block Keselowski, but without a boundary it's difficult because he has more space to protect.

Let's assume Edwards approaches it exactly the same. When Edwards moved down to block, Keselowski could have steered left on the track. No boundary to worry about.

On Sunday, Keselowski knew a penalty was coming if he moved below the yellow line.

That's exactly what happened to Regan Smith at Talladega last fall when he passed Tony Stewart and beat him to the finish line but didn't get the victory because Stewart forced him below the line.

Keselowski wasn't about to make the same mistake. He stayed on the gas, stayed above the line and took his chances.

Without the boundary, Keselowski would have kept charging, but he also would have gone lower to avoid hitting Edwards.

The result might have been a pass for the win below the racing surface without an accident.

It's also possible one or both of them would have wrecked anyway, but it would have happened lower on the track, making it far less likely that Edwards would have ended up at the top of the track and almost into the stands.

The first big wreck of the day (14 cars involved) also might have been avoided without the yellow line. Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon were in the middle of a four-wide situation heading into Turn 3.

The boundary creates less space for side-by-side racing and more chances for a collision. That's what happened. The inside car can't go any lower and the drivers run out of room.

The yellow line also played a role in the wreck between Earnhardt and Brian Vickers in the Daytona 500 this year.

The rule accomplishes some good things. The idea is to keep drivers from getting too brave and trying to make a pass on the apron or in the grass. And the backstretch at Talladega is all pavement.

"It may be 15 lanes wide if you allow the competitors to use the skid pads and everything," Darby said. "But the entrance to Turn 3 is not [that wide]. So it becomes a big game of chicken from going from 15 lanes wide down to three that ultimately created some very large wrecks."

Absolutely true, but at Talladega, it's always about choosing the lesser of two evils. Which concept is worse? Which produces more danger?

On the final lap Sunday, the answer was obvious.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.