Denny Hamlin may have won the 2020 Daytona 500 on Monday, but it was Ryan Newman who was on the minds of every NASCAR fan, following a devastating crash on the final lap that ended in Newman's car being flipped onto its roof and engulfed in flames. In an official statement released by Roush Fenway Racing on Monday night, the 42-year-old Newman was eventually confirmed to be in serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries.
While NASCAR faithful waited with anticipation for an update on the severity of Newman's injuries, the tense situation brought to mind the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500.
NASCAR Fans Remember Dale Sr. After Ryan Newman Crash
Before the Roush's official statement regarding Newman's condition at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, many fans and reporters took to Twitter, sensing an eerie similarity to the afternoon of February 18, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was pronounced dead at Halifax.
Thankfully, those initial fears proved to be false. Following the reports of Newman's stable health, many pointed to the safety measures implemented by NASCAR after Dale Sr.'s death as largely responsible for saving Newman's life.
Ryan Newman Daytona 500 Crash
"Safety's come a long way in this sport, but sometimes we are reminded that it is a very dangerous sport," a somber-looking Jeff Gordon said in the Fox broadcast booth, as he and Mike Joy provided the initial update following Ryan Newman's crash at Daytona International Speedway. Many pointed to Gordon having a similar demeanor to Darrell Waltrip, who called The Intimidator's fatal wreck in 2001.
While Newman's wreck was fortunately not fatal, it looked extremely intense. On the final lap of the Daytona 500, Newman's Ford surged into the lead. That's when the bumper of Ryan Blaney's car caught the back of Ryan Newman's car, sending him hard into the wall. His car flipped and rolled, and as it was flipping, it was hit on the driver's side by Corey LaJoie's car. Finally, Newman's car, covered in flames, skidded across the finish line.
Denny Hamlin was criticized for immediately celebrating his win after Newman had just wrecked, though the Joe Gibbs Racing driver later said that he was not aware of the seriousness of the crash.
In addition to Hamlin's comments, JGR owner Joe Gibbs also apologized, saying, "Some people may have saw us and said, 'Those guys are celebrating when there's a serious issue going on.'"
"I apologize to everybody. We really didn't know. We got in the winner's circle, and then that's when people told us. I wanted to explain that to everyone."
Dale Earnhardt's Death
Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, after crashing into a retaining wall due to contact with Sterling Marlin and Ken Schrader.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and all-around icon in the sports world was officially pronounced dead at 5:16 p.m. EST on February 18, 2001. His death had been broadcast live to more than 17 million viewers.
Earnhardt's death marked a tragic trend in NASCAR at the time, as he was the fourth NASCAR driver killed by a basilar skull fracture during an eight-month span. His death followed Adam Petty's (May 2000), Kenny Irwin Jr.'s (July 2000), and Tony Roper's (October 2000).
NASCAR safety improvements made in the wake of Earnhardt's death includes the mandated use of head-and-neck restraints, the installation of SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers at oval tracks, the implementation of new inspection rules for seats and seat belts, and the development of a roof-hatch escape system. Since Earnhardt's death, no Cup Series driver has died during a race.