Ryan Newman doesn’t remember his Feb. 17 crash at the finish of the Daytona 500, but he greatly appreciates the outpouring of support that continues to come from those who will never be able to forget the images of the frightening accident.
“I feel like a complete walking miracle,” he said Thursday.
Newman talked with members of the media in advance of his first race since Daytona, Sunday’s 400-miler at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Newman won’t be the only comeback story of that day, as it will be NASCAR’s first event since the coronavirus pandemic put the Cup Series season on pause March 13.
But Thursday marked the first time that Newman addressed the details of his Daytona crash, which dominated the sports headlines for 48 hours — first because of fears that the 18-time Cup Series race winner might have been killed, then because he improbably walked out of Halifax Health Medical Center two days later, holding the hands of his two young daughters.
In fact, seeing his children and that walk out of the medical center are his only memories from his hospitalization.
“That tells me God was involved,” he said. “I was blessed in more ways than one. I feel like a walking miracle.”
Newman, 42, explained that upon his arrival at the hospital, located only two miles from the Daytona International Speedway frontstretch where his crash occurred, doctors put him into a medically induced coma. They also inserted a PICC line into his chest to feed blood to his heart. But his recovery happened so fast, those precautions were required only briefly.
He credited the speed of that recovery and the lack of serious physical injuries to a confluence of factors, including the work of track safety crews, the sturdy roll cage construction of his Roush Fenway Ford and a new type of helmet that he was using for the first time, a carbon fiber model by Arai designed to be more durable while also providing flexibility to better absorb impacts.
In the crash, his car suffered a hard right-front impact into Daytona International Speedway’s outside retaining wall — an energy-absorbing “soft wall” SAFER barrier — and went onto its roof, where it was hit by the car of Corey LaJoie, who went directly through Newman’s driver’s side window. That launched the car back into the air before it slammed to the asphalt and rested on its roof, Newman hanging upside down in his seat belts while track safety crews arrived to extract him.
Newman said he has watched every video angle of the crash, the first viewing coming the day after the accident.
“As I watched in the next 24 hours of the crash, I had to make myself believe what I went through,” he said.
In the months since, the Purdue engineering graduate has been involved in the post-crash analysis process alongside NASCAR officials. He said his race seat was moved inside the car by the impact from LaJoie’s Ford and that his helmet was “crushed” while his head and neck restraint (HANS) device had also been hit by something.
However, in-car video has proved inconclusive as to what exactly hit them. Newman theorized that debris could have hit the helmet. He also noted that there was contact with the roll bar above his head, describing the entire incident as “high-quality whiplash.”
“Everything aligned perfectly for me to be alive and here with you today,” he said. “There were multiple miracles that aligned for me to walk out days later with my arms around my daughters.”
Asked about specifics of the injuries that prevented medical clearance from his doctors and then NASCAR’s medical liaison until April 27, Newman said that data showed there was never a point during that night when his brain was deprived of oxygen. But he also admitted to some confusion regarding his ultimate diagnosis, explaining that some doctors had diagnosed him as suffering a concussion while others said he did not. So he refers to his head injury as a “bruised brain.”
“I’ve felt completely normal in the last eight weeks, but that doesn’t mean that I was,” he said.
As for Sunday’s comeback race at Darlington, for both himself and NASCAR, Newman isn’t worried about having to shake off any rust.
“Sunday at Darlington is going to be a huge opportunity for us to reach millions of people,” he said. “We are all going to work really hard to make the best of it. … I’m hoping to do every lap and then one more after that.”
He was speaking of the victory lap.