28 injured as debris flies into Daytona Grandstand
According to officials from the speedway, at least 28 people were treated for injuries, including 14 taken to area hospitals - at least one with critical injuries.
Saturday’s incident began when race leader Regan Smith was spun coming into the tri-oval on the final lap of the 120-lap Drive4COPD 300, collecting 12 cars including the no. 32 Chevrolet of Kyle Larson, which was sent airborne and into the catch fence, causing large pieces of the front suspension as well as the engine to penetrate the fence.
Video of the accident showed a tire from Larson’s car clearing the catch fence and leading several rows up in the grandstands. A video shot by a fan in the same section of the grandstand shows several spectators injured by the flying tire, which also had several large suspension pieces still attached.
Medical crews and safety personnel immediately began treating the injured. Several were scene being taken from the grandstand on stretchers to waiting ambulances, where many of the injured were transported to nearby Halifax Medical Center.
“Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately,” said Daytona Speedway President Joie Chitwood. “We were prepared, we responded, we had the appropriate personnel in place. We were able to transport the individuals that needed care off property.”
Tony Stewart, who was running third at the time of the crash, managed to slip through the carnage to win the event. Stewart emerged from his car after the race to an understandably subdued celebration in Victory Lane.
“As much as we want to celebrate right now, as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and fans in the stands right now,” said Stewart. “We've always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. We assume that risk. It's hard when the fans get caught up in it.
“These fans are die-hard to this sport and the drivers. They come to watch a great show. The last thing you want to do is have any of them get caught up in a wreck that happens on the racetrack. Really won't be any celebrating until I find out hopefully everybody's all right.”
NASCAR President Mike Helton said shortly after the crash that all focus was being made on treating the injured and finding out what happened to allow the debris to fly into the stands.
“I think to see and explain what we know right now is there obviously was some intrusion into the fence,” said Helton. “Fortunately with the way the event's equipped up, there was plenty of emergency workers ready to go. They all jumped in on it pretty quickly.”
The crash was the second multi-car wreck of the race, following a 13-car melee that happened in turn two with five laps to go which brought at a nearly 20 minute red flag.
Michael Annett, one of the drivers involved in the crash, was taken to the hospital for further evaluation.
Racing resumed with a three-lap shootout to the finish with Stewart leading until the two-car duo of Smith and defending Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski powered past on the outside to the take the lead on the final lap.
As the two came through the tri-oval, Keselowski made a move to the outside, prompting Smith to pull up to block, but instead got spun into the outside wall.
“I tried to throw a block coming off turn four, I knew Brad (Keselowski) was going to make a move,” said Smith. “It’s Daytona – you want to go for the win here, that’s what we’re here for. I hope everyone in the stands is OK”
Among the top 15 finishers, Stewart was the only car to escape unscathed.
Larson’s car was nearly torn in half in the crash, however he and all of the other drivers involved in the wreck were uninjured.
“I hope all the fans are OK and all the drivers are alright,” said Larson. “I know I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone. Had some flames coming into the cockpit but lucky I was alright and could get out of the car quickly.”
The incident cast a dark pall what was shaping up to be a banner weekend for NASCAR, enjoying a wave of publicity for Sunday’s running of the 55th Daytona 500 featuring a new generation stock car and the first female driver to start on the front row for the race – Danica Patrick.
Now, NASCAR is facing a public relations nightmare and will certainly face renewed criticism and scrutiny over fan safety and the dangers of high speed racing in general in the wake of several multi-car crashes that have occurred over the last week.
Despite the tragic events, Chitwood said NASCAR and track officials plan to go ahead with Sunday’s running of the Daytona 500, and repairs were being made to the catch fence and the grandstands where the debris landed.
“We're in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow,” said Chitwood. “We don't anticipate moving any of our fans (out of the affected area). We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes.”
Saturday’s incident marks the fourth time a race car has gone airborne and into the catch fence at one of NASCAR’s two fastest tracks. In 2000, in the inaugural truck race at the speedway, the truck of Geoff Bodine was catapulted into the fence, severely injuring Bodine as well as several spectators.
In April of 2009, the Ford Fusion of Carl Edwards slammed into the fence at Talladega Superspeedway. Several fans were hurt by Edwards himself walked away from the crash.
Most recently, driver Joey Coulter wrecked in the last lap of last years truck series race at Daytona and was sent sailing into the fence. Neither Coulter or any fans were seriously injured.
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