Ryan Newman has barrel-rolled his way through many terrifying crashes in his 20-year NASCAR career. This one, though, caused the sport to pause.
Newman slid across the finish line in a crumpled heap of metal, with sparks flying as his car skidded to a halt and fuel pouring onto the track frighteningly close to the flames.
Fans gasped as track workers placed large, black screens around Newman’s car and worked to get him out. They had to wait two hours to exhale.
The 42-year-old Newman was involved in a scary crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Monday, and everyone feared the worst. NASCAR has not had a fatality in its elite Cup Series since 2001, but this wreck looked different.
After two hours, NASCAR announced that Newman had non-life-threatening injuries and was in serious condition at Halifax Medical Center.
“We had been waiting for information just like everyone else, so to hear some positive news tonight is a relief,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director for Ford Performance Motorsports. “The entire Ford family is sending positive thoughts for his recovery, but our first thoughts remain with his family and his team.”
Safety crews rushed to Newman’s No. 6 Ford and worked to get the “Rocketman” out of his seat. The car was on fire as it skidded to a stop and had to be turned onto its tires before Newman could be unstrapped. Fox opted not to broadcast Newman’s removal.
Ryan Blaney, who locked bumpers with Newman and turned him sideways, sounded crestfallen afterward. Corey LaJoie, who slammed into Newman’s sideways car at full speed, watched a replay and insisted that he had no way to avoid contact.
Fox Sports analyst and four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon might have summed it up best.
“Safety’s come a long way in this sport, but sometimes we are reminded that it is a very dangerous sport,” Gordon said quietly as the broadcast came to a close, with Newman’s condition unknown.
NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell provides an update on Ryan Newman after his crash on the final lap at Daytona 500 and reads a statement from Newman’s family.
Breathtaking crashes are common at Daytona International Speedway, where drivers racing for position at 200 mph and in tight quarters often make contact. There have been no fatalities at the track since Dale Earnhardt’s death following a crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
NASCAR responded by beefing up safety regulations, mandating head-and-neck restraints and improving the design and development of the cars.
Newman has been a harsh critic of NASCAR’s struggles to keep cars on the racing surface, even being fined for public comments that the sanctioning body considered negative. In 2010, he said fans shouldn’t even go to the track to see races at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
He escaped several scary wrecks at Daytona and Talladega over the years. His car went airborne, flipped repeatedly and landed on its roof in the 2003 Daytona 500. He had a similar crash landing at Talladega in 2009.
Newman’s latest crash will go down in Daytona history along with Austin Dillon‘s memorable crash into the catch fence on the final lap of the 2015 July race at Daytona. Dillon’s car went airborne, tore down part of the fence and injured several fans. The car, with its engine already resting on another part of the track, ended up on its roof and then was smashed into by Brad Keselowski‘s car. Dillon remarkably walked away unscathed.
Newman’s wreck looked just as awful to the naked eye and was arguably worse on replay.
Blaney turned him hard right and into the outside wall. Newman’s car immediately flipped and was sliding on its side when LaJoie rammed into it.
“I got a big push there that last coming to the white,” LaJoie said after the race. “I don’t know who was pushing me, and I kind of stalled out, and I don’t know who hooked Newman. I was hoping he would kind of bounce off the fence to the left, but he didn’t and I hit him. … It was some scary stuff. Don’t get me wrong. My car was on fire. My seat belts grabbed all sorts of areas, but it was a good day for us. I hope Ryan is OK.”
President Donald Trump, who made a grand entrance at the track Sunday before the race was postponed, tweeted that he was praying for Newman.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2020
Denny Hamlin won the race for Joe Gibbs Racing, marking his second straight victory in the season opener and third in the past five years. The team celebrated near the start-finish line and again when confetti flew in Victory Lane, prompting Gibbs to later apologize.
“Some people may have saw us and said, ‘Those guys are celebrating when there’s a serious issue going on,'” Gibbs said. “I apologize to everybody. We really didn’t know. We got in the winner’s circle, and then that’s when people told us. I wanted to explain that to everyone.
“That’s what makes it so hard. Such a close-knit community. You know everybody. … If you think about all the wrecks that we’ve had over the last how many number of years, some of them have been real serious. We’ve been real fortunate.”
Hamlin also clarified that he didn’t realize how serious the crash was when he began celebrating.
First a foremost I want to give well wishes and prayers to @RyanJNewman. I had absolutely NO IDEA of the severity of the crash until I got to victory lane. There’s very little communication after the finish and i had already unhooked my radio. It’s not anyone’s fault. 🙏Rocket
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 18, 2020
Newman, an Indiana native who graduated with an engineering degree from Purdue, said earlier during Speedweeks that he felt renewed in his second year at Roush Fenway Racing and had stopped thinking about retirement.
“It’s all about competitiveness and fun,” said Newman, who also announced that he and his wife had split after 16 years of marriage. “I want to have fun with my life. If I can have fun in this garage doing it and get paid what I feel like I deserve to get paid, then I’m all for it. It’s got to be fun, and it’s got to be rewarding in more ways than one.
“I’m doing it past when I said I was going to do it 10 years ago. I don’t know how to give the answer anymore. I really don’t. I always said 40, and I’m 42 now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.