The Daytona 500 is a race that is filled with prestige, excitement and heartbreak. After 500 miles, the storylines that usually unfold are about celebration, but this year’s race was a different kind of celebration. The celebration of safety has been important to NASCAR in the past 20 years, and Ryan Newman tested the features that NASCAR implemented in 2020.
The festivities at Daytona began as President Donald Trump gave the command to start the engines and became only the second sitting President to attend the Daytona 500; the other was George W. Bush. The race started under threatening skies and ran 20 laps before rain halted the race until the following night.
After the race restarted, the race ran relatively clean for the first 185 laps, with only two cautions for wrecks. Newman ran respectably with the lead pack as he led on lap 39 and gained the lead again on lap 184. It was the right time for Newman to regain the lead as the Big One struck on lap 185, which involved 19 cars. Newman held unto the lead until Denny Hamlin, the dominant car of the day, passed him with three laps to go. As Hamlin made the pass, the front two cars stalled out and caused the eighth caution of the day, setting a dash to the finish.
On the final restart on lap 208, Newman had a run with Ford driver, Ryan Blaney. Newman took the lead and looked to add a second Daytona 500 trophy. While Hamlin regathered his run with Blaney, Newman was out to dry with a too big of a lead.
As Newman was defending his lead to the finish line, he did too many crossovers on the front bumper of the No. 12. Newman hit the outside wall and was on his roof. As Newman slide down the track, Corey LaJoie drilled the No. 6 car right into the driver side window. Newman’s car slid on his roof on the driver’s side while fuel spilled out of it.
Here is the final lap of the Daytona 500 in which Ryan Newman's car was flipped at the line.
We will continue to keep you updated on his status as we learn more. pic.twitter.com/qkEwQBpoP0
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 18, 2020
For many watching the race, all that adrenaline of watching a thrilling finish turned into fear and anxiety.
When Blaney hooked Newman into the wall, it looked like Kyle Busch‘s 2009 Daytona July last-lap wreck with Tony Stewart. He walked away.
Newman flew high in the air after being hit. Carl Edwards flew into the catch fence at Talladega Superspeedway in 2009. He walked away.
Newman’s wreck looked as nasty as Austin Dillon‘s 2015 wreck at Daytona. He walked away.
There have been injuries in the past few years with Busch in 2015 and Aric Almirola in 2017. In both of those cases, they at least let their window net down and were alert.
Newman did not climb out of the racecar.
Everyone watched and waited for him to emerge, hoping Newman would give some gesture to the crowd to indicate he was all right. But the safety crew was shielding the crowd and TV broadcast from what was going on. The FOX booth was trying to keep an optimistic, yet concerned tone at the end of the broadcast. Hamlin’s victory lane celebration was reduced to a somber victory lane interview after learning about the wreck. After the TV broadcast ended, there were questions on Newman’s condition. It was too hush-hush. An eerie feeling of what happened 19 years ago was present.
Newman’s wreck happened at the same racetrack and on the last lap as Dale Earnhardt’s. Would Newman’s life end like that?
NASCAR announced it would have a press conference at 10:04 p.m. ET. I remember waiting to hear that Ryan Newman had passed, as I doubted NASCAR’s safety protocols. But Steve O’Donnell sat down and announced that Newman was alive yet in serious condition.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 18, 2020
Newman survived a vicious wreck, but there was uncertainty if it is a long term injury. Newman was knocked out during the wreck but had a bruised brain. Roush Fenway Racing released a statement stating that Newman was alert and talking to the staff.
After three days after his wreck, Newman emerged from the hospital a few days after his wreck with his two daughters in tow. He walked away with love.
Ryan Newman has been treated and released from Halifax Medical Center pic.twitter.com/J0twhGgQm7
— Roush Fenway (@roushfenway) February 19, 2020
Even with Newman leaving the hospital, Newman was not cleared to return to racing just yet. Ross Chastain competed for the next three race weekends in the No. 6 before COVID-19 shut down the season. The hiatus gave Newman enough time to recover to make his return at Darlington Raceway, where he finished 15th. While he only scored one more top 10 after his return, Newman showed that he can come back from one of the scariest wrecks in the last 20 years.
NASCAR’s messaging has been clear since Earnhardt’s death: safety. It has brought several improvements since Earnhardt’s death, like spotters on the roof at all times that the cars are on track, stronger catch fences, the HANS device and a new car that introduced a bigger area inside the cockpit.
Life has been taken for granted in the past few years in NASCAR. Newman’s crash was an ultimate test of NASCAR’s proactive stance on safety. NASCAR passed.
Even though Newman survived, NASCAR still strives to make NASCAR safer, especially with the Next Gen car. NASCAR should celebrate the safety measures it put in place that kept Newman alive in front of the biggest audience of the year.
That is something NASCAR should not walk away from.