Watching the conclusion of Monday’s Daytona 500, I feared the worst for Ryan Newman.
The impact he took – all three impacts actually – looked impossible to survive.
Driver-side into the outside wall, sending him upside down in a flash. Plowed into by another car, striking the roof and driver window, launching into the air before crashing down to asphalt on its already-compromised roof.
There appeared no possible way a driver could come out the other side of this alive.
And yet, as I sit here on Tuesday afternoon, Newman is alive.
At 10 p.m. Monday, Roush Fenway Racing announced in a statement that Newman was in serious condition but doctors did not believe his injuries were life-threatening.
That was the first sigh of relief.
The second came Tuesday at 3:45 p.m., when RFR released another update, this time noting that Newman was awake and speaking with family and doctors.
While no further news of Newman’s condition has been provided, what we have feels like nothing short of a miracle.
I was 6 years old when I watched Dale Earnhardt die on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. I understood that meant he was no longer here, but as most children, I didn’t have true perspective of what that meant.
Nineteen years later, I do. In part, that’s why I screamed at my television Monday night and subsequently got emotional.
There is, of course, the addition that I have spoken with Newman on multiple occasions.
In 2013, I covered my first NASCAR event, a test session at Pocono Raceway. There that day were the teams of Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.
At that time, Newman was driving for SHR with teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. They were at Pocono just days after both Newman and Stewart earned top-10 finishes in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the team’s best complete race to date that season.
My question to Stewart fixated on if that race could be a turning point of things to come that season. After a well-thought out answer, Newman saw it fit to offer additional information regarding a prior test the team had at Dover International Speedway before Charlotte that benefited the organization greatly.
It was a small interjection that felt extremely casual. But his apparent eagerness to provide more useful details was appreciated by a very young journalist in that situation for the first time.
Since then, there have been plenty other times in which our paths have somewhat crossed at both Pocono and Dover. And even that minute of a connection came to a head for me Monday night.
Back to Monday’s crash: Newman was less than 200 yards from winning his second Daytona 500 before incidental contact with Ryan Blaney shot Newman’s No. 6 Ford out of control toward the wall.
He slammed into the wall driver-side first, lifting the car up and over. With nowhere to go and approaching the checkered flag, Corey LaJoie piled into Newman’s car toward the roof of the driver’s compartment. Newman flew through the air before landing on the roof again and sliding in a sea of sparks for at least another 200 yards.
Credit NASCAR for its safety improvements since Earnhardt’s passing. Let’s start first with the integrity of the race cars themselves.
When NASCAR transitioned to the "Car of Tomorrow" starting in 2007, the biggest takeaway was how hideous they looked – boxy, identical to one another, and what is that wing doing on the back of it? But the transition was necessary because of how much safer the car was built to be, including thicker steel roll cages and energy-absorbent foam between the roll cage and door.
It proved itself when Michael McDowell destroyed his car in qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway in 2008, careening into the wall at 180 mph, barrel-rolling and climbing out completely unscathed.
It proved itself twice at Talladega Superspeedway in 2009, both times involving Newman. In April, Newman drove head-on into Carl Edwards’ airborne car and suffered no injuries, and neither did Edwards, whose car crashed into the catchfence. Later that year, Newman was turned sideways and his car flew trunk-first into the air, flipping multiple times. Again, he escaped without injury.
Then came NASCAR’s "Gen6" car, a car more comparable to the shape of its manufacturers’ street-car namesakes, featuring a bigger greenhouse area between the driver’s head and the roof, and moving the seat a few inches further toward the center of the machine. It also featured the "Newman Bar," an additional steel bar of the roll cage between the roof and the windshield to handle hard landings in light of Newman’s Talladega tumble.
It helped prevent injury when Kurt Busch’s flipping No. 78 car landed on Newman’s windshield in a 2013 Talladega crash.
The "Newman Bar" may also have played a role in saving Newman’s life Monday, though it may be far too early to tell how much a role it played.
Tracks have also done a phenomenal job of making their facilities safer with the NASCAR mandate of the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier. The walls are far from soft, but unlike its concrete predecessors, it at least gives way and absorbs the impact far more than the stationary concrete wall.
When watching Newman’s initial impact with the wall on Monday night, it is obvious how much velocity he carried into the SAFER barrier, a hit that on its own may have been enough to daze a driver long before LaJoie ever got to the scene.
So much remains unknown. How long will Newman be out? What is the extent of his injuries? Who will pilot the No. 6 car this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?
But we need to remember how lucky we are that those are the questions we are left with. How lucky we are that Newman is still alive.