Crash at 2020 500 Stirs Big Memories

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2021

Ryan Newman, who was involved in a horrific wreck at Daytona last February, left the hospital with his daughters just days afterward. (File photo courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One year ago Ryan Newman was a few hundred feet from his second Daytona 500 victory when suddenly a push Ryan Blaney thought would help his fellow Ford driver backfired and instead triggered a horrific crash.

Newman’s car quickly turned right, shot into the wall head-on and flipped. While upside down, Corey LaJoie’s Ford rammed Newman’s car and launched him into the air. The car then slammed the speedway on its roof and slid down the track on fire before stopping at the pit road exit. Blaney finished second, LaJoie eighth and Newman ninth, flying across the finish line. The terrible crash has been erased from Newman’s memory, but that February night in 2020 has forever intertwined those three drivers. 

“That was tough, really tough,” Blaney says about the crash. “You never go into a race thinking you’re going to get hurt in a race car. That was a rough night for sure, not knowing any updates on Ryan. Even though it was not intentional you’re still a part of the wreck, so that was definitely tough.” 

Daytona and Talladega are places where “you hug the wife for an extra couple of seconds and you pull the belts just a little bit tighter,” notes LaJoie.  

After the 2020 race’s conclusion, Blaney didn’t feel any relief until the following morning when he received a text from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wife, Amy. She told him she had talked with Newman’s family and provided him with updates on the Indiana native’s condition. He talked with Newman a couple of days later. 

“It took me a little bit to get over (the crash),” Blaney said. “I watch the (Daytona) 500, but I stop watching right off turn four. I just don’t want to see it. You learn from what move you could have made, but I don’t watch that and try not to think about it.”

Newman, however, has watched it numerous times and from every angle thanks to a YouTube video someone produced. 

“I literally laid in bed one morning as it popped up as a, ‘We know you like these things, so check this out.’” Newman said. “I looked at it and I watched it and it was just a different perspective. It brought tears to my eyes. But those are tears of respect and appreciation not tears of sadness, because I was here and I was able to watch it and know that just down the hallway my kids were gonna wake up shortly.”

After Newman recovered from his injuries, he resumed his racing career immediately. Due to the pandemic shutdown, he missed only three races. When NASCAR returned to action May 17 at Darlington, so did Newman. He can’t remember “the potential tragedy that wasn’t.” So without the memory, he possesses no fear.  

  “It’s also my passion and my love and what I enjoy doing. It’s a paid hobby,” Newman continued. “It’s the most amazing job you could ever have, and that’s where my focus is. I just am doing my best to continue and try to become a Cup champion. The way I feel is I still have another opportunity and God has given me that opportunity and I’ll enjoy it with my two beautiful girls and our team together.”

The photo of Newman walking out of the Daytona Beach hospital last year with a daughter on each side, holding his hand, was one of the most emotional photos of 2020. Newman’s daughters accompanied him to the Chili Bowl in January, the first time they had been at a track with their father to watch him race since last February.

“It was humbling and heartwarming for me to have them there and get back in the race car,” Newman said. “They’re looking forward to it (going to Daytona). There’s no, ‘well this is what put Daddy in the hospital’ feelings. It’s, ‘no, we want to go see you race.’ That means a lot to me. I guess in the grand scheme of things that makes it easier for … you guys to understand the perspective of why would he not retire or why does he want to keep doing this.

“It (the crash) was a magnifier. Things that you love, you love more because a part of you was taken away for a little bit of time. It’s opened my eyes and made me more appreciative of a lot of things in life, and probably a little more positive. I feel like it has magnified my personality for all the positive things and, therefore, decreased some of the negative things. I have no reason to not do what I love.”

Newman earned the seventh starting position for Sunday’s Daytona 500 scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Fox. The pre-race telecast on “NASCAR RaceDay” is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on FS1.    

(Editor’s note: Deb Williams is in her fourth decade of covering motorsports. The former editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and managing editor of GT Motorsports has also covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. The 1990 and 1996 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year has authored five books and hosts the podcast “Racing Now and Then.”)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2021
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