First of all, let’s get right to what really matters and thank God (or whatever higher power you believe in) that Ryan Newman survived what looked to be one of the worst wrecks in recent NASCAR history. There have been some pretty awful wrecks in automotive racing in various forms, NASCAR, IRL, F1, and other but this one had all the earmarks of a very serious accident, reminding many of the terrible crash that killed Dale Earnhardt.
The wreck came on the last lap with a battle between Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick. The 2020 racing package created some big runs and made bump drafting and flat out pushing another car to the lead the best way to advance. Pushing is so dangerous that NASCAR doesn’t allow it in the lower series. The bumpers on the cars have to line up perfectly and the driver has to wage a battle between when and when not too push. The driver in the car that is pulling the rest needs to wait for the bump or push and pray that he has a tight grip and the tires are pointed straight. It takes an incredible amount of skill and nerve to race this way.
On the final lap the lead see-sawed between Hamlin and Newman with Ryan Blaney pushing both drivers as they swapped lanes and blocked in a high speed game of chess. Blaney got a run, jumped behind Newman and pushed him to the lead. Newman, known for being one of the most difficult drivers to pass, blocked Blaney twice as the two shot to the lead. Blaney was all over the rear of Newman and figured that if he couldn’t pass him, he would just push him to the checkers when Newman’s car started wiggle. Blaney could get out of the gas fast enough and Newman turned across the track and up into the wall in front of the rest of the field going full tilt for the win. Newman’s torn up car flipped upside down and landed directly in front of Corey Lajoie. Lajoie could see nothing but smoke and hit Newman’s upside down car in the driver’s side door and window area, sending it flying down the track well over 120 mph.
Newman’s car settled on its roof and skidded to a stop amid sparks, flames and liquids pouring out of the damaged car. Newman was unresponsive as his team tried to contact him while the emergency crews raced to his aid.
In the meantime, Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs teammates were celebrating their third Daytona 500 win. A win that puts Hamlin in a select group of multiple 500 winners.
As Coach Joe Gibbs led the team in prayer, something they do after every win, Hamlin did donuts in the infield being directed away from the track by NASCAR. His jubilant team raced to his car and they celebrated as one would expect, not knowing the status of Newman.
By the time Hamlin got to Victory Lane, it became obvious that Newman wasn’t getting right out of the car and Hamlin’s first question was about Newman’s situation. But NASCAR isn’t one to postpone a celebration and a subdued Hamlin saluted his team amongst a shower of the prerequisite victory lane confetti.
Ryan Blaney was visibly shaken in his post-race interview as it became more and more obvious that Ryan Newman wasn’t going to be getting out of the damaged car under his own power.
Everyone who remembers the accident that cost Earnhardt his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 had the same awful feeling about this wreck. The pit area was cleared of all spectators and media. A mass of emergency workers surrounded Newman’s destroyed car and black screens were put up to block the view of what was going on as Newman was taken from his vehicle.
A very subdued Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon closed out the broadcast with a prayer for Newman and his family. Gordon appeared to be extremely upset and choked up. This was not a good sign for millions of fans who were fearing the worst and praying for the best. The following NASCAR America show on NBCSN was postponed.
Newman was taken to a local trauma hospital and millions of people followed social media to find out the latest on Newman’s condition. Sadly, there were trolls out there that were passing along inaccurate information and one even claiming that Blaney had killed Newman. I kid you not, I saw it and quickly responded to the Twitter user to quit spreading false and negative information.
NASCAR media responded appropriately cautioning fans and supporting NASCAR for giving out information only when it was available. Then we heard that Newman was in serious condition but his injuries were not life threatening.
NASCAR Nation and millions of others breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I did not see Newman’s wife, Krissie, at the prerace celebrations — it was recently announced they were divorcing. Ryan Newman was there with his two young daughters on Sunday and I hope they were not watching the race at the end. Krissie’s last post on Twitter at the end of the race was simply “omg.” They are all in our prayers again today.
So for all the complaining on Saturday afternoon, including myself, about long NASCAR prerace celebrations, the delay due to rain in the area and why didn’t NASCAR move up the start time, in the end it really doesn’t seem so important now, does it?
Fans saw a great race and the safety features that NASCAR implemented after 2001 quite possibly saved Ryan Newman’s life. But let’s not sugar coat it either. That wreck was terrible. For all that NASCAR has done, there are plain old physics at work with a car going 200 mph and getting turned into the wall, then getting hit by another car. There are some things that you just can’t change. This is still an inherently dangerous sport. Sometimes as fans, we forget that.
This weekend, the drivers will all get back in their cars and race around Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They will race for a win and for Ryan Newman.
Congrats to Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs teammates. They had an incredibly fast car and they represented the sport well. Anyone who doubts the integrity and honesty of Coach Joe can go pound sand. We can debate NASCAR and did they make the right Victory Lane celebration call at another time.
Hug those close to you. Pray for the Newman family and the caregivers that surround them.
(image from USAToday)