Ryan Newman returns to scene of harrowing Daytona 500 crash

DAYTONA BEACH (AP) — Ryan Newman expects to get a little emotional when he drives into Daytona International Speedway.

His last race at Daytona ended with Newman exiting in the back of an ambulance as countless onlookers feared for his life.

Newman returned to the scene of his most harrowing crash last Saturday when NASCAR made its debut on Daytona’s road course.

It’s a 14-turn, 3.61-mile course that most drivers have only raced virtually, but Newman did score a real victory on it once when he won a 40-lap IROC race at Daytona in 2004.

The event 16 years ago was the same configuration that uses the winding course and parts of the high-banked speedway but few remember Newman’s race that day. Few will forget Newman’s violent and scary tumble six months ago.

Ryan Newman goes airborne during the final lap of the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway. PHOTO: AP

Newman had to be cut from his number six Ford after wrecking while leading the final lap of the Daytona 500 on February 17.

He does not recall anything about his two-night hospital stay for treatment of a head injury he called a brain bruise. His first memory is walking out of a Florida hospital holding hands with his two young daughters.

“I guess after February I’m pretty emotional every day,” Newman said recently. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to continue on. I get to hit the reset button in a roundabout way, not with my life, but the reality is just to continue to play on.

“I will probably be some sort of emotional going back to Daytona, but I don’t see it being a whole lot different than the kind of emotion I had getting in the car at Talladega or even going back to Darlington for that matter when I went and did my first test.”

The coronavirus pandemic caused NASCAR to suspend its season in March, so Newman missed just three races.

He is winless in the 18 races since, with a best finish of 12th. He ranks 26th in the Cup standings, knowing he needs a victory in the next four races to make the playoffs for the second straight year. It certainly would be special for Newman to do it at Daytona, where the series returns again in two weeks for the regular-season finale on the main track.