Historic Daytona 500 Ends in Horrific Crash
Domenico Colace, Online Editor
The 62nd running of the Daytona 500 took place over the two days of Sunday, February 16 and Monday, February 17. The Daytona 500 is the not only the first race of the NASCAR season, but it is often touted as the “Super Bowl of NASCAR.” For many winning the Daytona 500 is more important than becoming a series champion and can be the defining point of one’s career. The buzz and excitement around the 2020 Daytona 500 were no different than any other year. It is the final season for the Gen 6 stock car before they transfer over to the Next Gen model, Chevrolet has introduced a new version of the Gen 6 Camaro to race, perhaps the greatest driver to ever race, 7 time champion Jimmie Johnson is retiring at the end of the season, and on top of all that there were the huge team changes during the off season. Speed weeks, the preseason of NASCAR, went off with electric fashion producing multiple wrecks and exciting racing with the new aero package.
Speed weeks finish up and race day arrives with as much fanfare as ever. The race has been sold out with over 101,000 fans in the grandstands with even more filling up the infield of the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Fans and drivers alike roam the pits taking pictures and signing autographs. As the beginning of the race draws near, Air Force One lands near the stadium delivering the grand marshal of the race, President Donald Trump. Forward to race time and everyone is in their seats ready for some action. The drivers sit in their stock cars waiting for the famed words, “Gentlemen start your engines” to come from the grand marshal. The engines roar to life and the cars take to the track paced by an armored limousine carrying President Trump while he wishes them all luck over the radio. The cars take a few pacing laps and just as they are about to set off, a shower comes through and delays the race. The race picks up about a half hour later before the cars finally set off only racing 20 laps before a storm rolls in delaying the race until Monday night.
Monday night arrives and everyone is rearing to start. The race starts off in spectacular fashion leading to some great racing. The new aero package provides some thrilling superspeedway action which was lacking in the old package. There were a couple incidents throughout the race but nothing too major. The fabled “big one,” the crash that inevitably involves most of the field happened with only 15 laps to go. This would bring out a red flag in order to allow the clean up crews to clear the track. The race begins again only to be followed by another incident with only a few laps left. The pace laps would push the race into overtime, in NASCAR that means 2 laps left resulting in a green, white, checker finish. The remaining few cars would restart with
two cars wrecking before even passing the start finish line pushing the race into double overtime. The top four cars are last years 500 winner Denny Hamlin in his Fed Ex Camry followed by Ryan Newman, his teammate Chris Buescher, with Ryan Blaney in fourth. These four cars would lead the cars around the track for the final laps. Ryan Newman would get pushed out front before Denny Hamlin would get a big run to try to overtake him. Newman would move to block leaving Buescher behind allowing Blaney to come around. Newman would then move to block Blaney while continued to push Newman around the track for the final lap. As the cars came out of the final turn before heading into the tri-oval, Newman was making his car three lanes wide trying to block anyone who tried to pass for the lead. Blaney would get the best run only to get blocked by Newman. Blaney looked to be pushing Newman to the finish but as they entered the tri-oval, Newman got loose and shot up track slamming into the wall going 200+ mph. The momentum would cause his car to flip and roll into the way of oncoming traffic. As his car was flipping, Corey LaJoie crashed into the upside-down car right into the driver’s side, sending the car flying into the air and bursting into flames. The race itself would finish with the second closes 500 finish with Denny Hamlin making a huge run at the end beating Ryan Blaney by 0.014 seconds. The race was also the longest Daytona 500 to date, racing 209 laps for a total of 522.5 miles.
The wreck began at the entrance of the tri-oval and the car came to rest well past the exit of Pit Road. Emergency teams rushed to put out the fire and to free Newman from the car. No one was sure if he was alright or not and emergency teams blocked the wrecked car so no one could see as they took Newman from the car, fearing the worst. This all was reminiscent of one of the darkest days in NASCAR, the day Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap, in the last turn, of the 2001 Daytona 500. Since then, NASCAR has made strides in safety to protect drivers from horrific wrecks such as these. Ryan Newman was taken to Halifax Medical Center without any indication about his status. Later that evening Roush Fenway Racing released a statement saying that Newman was awake and that he did not suffer life threatening injuries. Although this was comforting to hear, the entire NASCAR community was still shaken and feared the severity of the injuries. As Tuesday rolled around, another statement was published saying that Newman was now awake, responsive, and was talking with family. The news again was good but still vague enough to cause concern. However, on Wednesday morning we got a photo of Newman smiling with his daughters and then followed that afternoon by a video of Newman walking out of the hospital under his own power holding hands with his daughters.
We still do not know what injuries Newman sustained but the fact that he was able to walk out of the hospital under his own power only two days after such a wreck, is a testament to the strides in safety that NASCAR has taken. Many saw a low point in NASCAR during the 2010s because they went all in on safety will dulled the action but to get to where they are now, I believe it was worth it. Newman’s racing career is still questionable whether he will return to
racing this season or if he will return to racing at all. Roush Fenway Racing has stated that Ross Chastain will sit in as an interim driver for the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on February 23 and it will be interesting to see what moves they make to fill in for Newman. Newman is coming off a stellar season finishing 15th in standings in his first year with Roush Fenway Racing. Big things were expected from him and the way he was driving in the 500, one could see he was going to make those things happen but now we will have to wait and see how Roush Fenway adjusts to these changes.
For those interested in watching, the NASCAR Cup series races on Sunday afternoons with occasional Saturday night races, with the Xfinity Series on Saturdays, and the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series on Friday evenings.