NASCAR has instituted a series of safety measures since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 in the Daytona 500, but all the memories of how dangerous the sport can be came rushing back Monday night when Ryan Newman was involved in a crash that sent him to a hospital.
The exact nature of his injuries was not disclosed but they were not life-threatening, his team said. He was listed in serious condition.
It was on the last lap of the 209-lap race, the longest in Daytona 500 history, which had Denny Hamlin and Newman battling for the lead when Ryan Blaney pushed Newman past Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota.
Newman took the lead and then locked bumpers with Blaney, sending Newman to the wall and airborne. He was then hit head-on by Corey LaJoie and then Newman’s car slid on its roof, throwing sparks and fire around the car.
It took safety workers several minutes to extricate Newman.
Hamlin won the race in the second-closest margin in Daytona history, 14-hundredths of a second over Blaney. Hamlin became the first consecutive winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.
It was Hamlin’s third victory in the race in five years and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing, whose namesake was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year.
“He’s in serious condition but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life-threatening. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers and ask that you respect the privacy of Ryan and his family during this time. We appreciate your patience and cooperation and will provide more information as it becomes available.”
Newman, 42, is well respected in the sport. He has won 18 races over 20 years, including the Daytona 500 in 2008. He was the Cup rookie of the year in 2002. His last victory came in 2017 at Phoenix Raceway.
The violence of the crash mixed with two hours without information had those associated with NASCAR in a somber mood as drivers tweeted out their prayers en masse. The crash was much different than the one that killed Earnhardt, who just crashed into the wall, something that is common in stock car racing.
Earnhardt’s death led to significant safety changes in the sport, including the mandatory use of a head-and-neck restraint (HANS).
“NASCAR has done a fantastic job with the evolution of race cars,” Hamlin said in a postrace news conference. “Helmet manufacturers, suit manufacturers, HANS devices. There’s been so much development that has come a long way, and I always think how blessed I was to come into the sport in 2006 when all that stuff was really being implemented.
“The No. 1 thing that NASCAR always does is put safety before competition, you’ve got to have a car that’s safe. You’ve got to have all your equipment that’s safe, and the sport has been very fortunate to not have anything freak or weird happen for many, many years. … I thank my lucky stars every day that I came in the sport when I did.”
Gibbs apologized for the celebration on pit row by his crew as they didn’t know what happened and were focused on Hamlin.
“When everything happened at the end of the race, I knew that there was a race, but I never even focused over there,” Gibbs said. “I was focusing on our car, and everybody started celebrating around us.
“So, I say to everybody out there, some people may have saw us and said, ‘well, these guys are celebrating when there’s a serious issue going on.’ So hopefully, I apologize to everybody, but we really didn’t know.”
The accident was the third in the overtime period but did not bring out a caution flag because it was on the last lap. There were nine cautions for 39 laps.
It was the first Daytona 500 without restrictor plates since 1991. But still, the race provided the wreck-filled finish that was the trademark of restrictor-plate racing.
The race was not supposed to be run Monday but rain forced NASCAR to postpone the race after 20 laps Sunday. It started Monday at 4 p.m. EST, forcing the finish to be under the lights.
“We pushed Newman to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 [Hamlin],” Blaney said about how the accident occurred. “I kind of went low and he blocked that and so I was committed to pushing him to the win and have a Ford win it.
“I don’t know. We just got the bumpers hooked up wrong and I turned him. … It looked pretty bad. I was trying to push him to the win. I don’t like saying that things just happen because I feel really bad about it.”
For the third year in a row, the race went to overtime because a wreck started when Ross Chastain got loose on the bottom of the track with two laps to go and floated up the bank collecting several cars and forcing a red flag.
Hamlin was in the lead position headed to the first of two overtime restarts on Lap 204, but just as the race was getting ready to go green, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Justin Haley all touched causing another caution.
The biggest wreck occurred with 15 laps to go when Joey Logano pushed Aric Almirola, who then was pushed into leader Brad Keselowski, causing a multicar wreck that eliminated several drivers, including Jimmie Johnson, who was competing in his last Daytona 500.
Blaney was second, followed by Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Kevin Harvick and Bowyer, all driving Fords.
Newman was credited with finishing ninth.