DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a single thrilling lap around NASCAR's most storied track, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman displayed the risks and rewards of the dangerous sport they both love.
Hamlin won his second consecutive Daytona 500 and third in five years on Monday night as he surged past Newman on the final lap of a second overtime shootout. The win came as Newman's car was turned hard into the wall, then flipped onto its roof, where he was helpless as he was hit in the driver's side by another car.
His car continued to skid upside down along the speedway and it crossed the finish line in flames as safety crews hurried to snuff out the fire and pry Newman loose. It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels, and medical personnel used solid black barriers to block the view as the 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken to a hospital.
All the while, a sense of dread settled over Daytona and its showcase race, already pushed back a day by rain that dampened a raucous visit by President Donald Trump. There has not been a fatality in NASCAR's elite Cup Series since 2001, but Newman's crash had everyone worried.
The damage to his Mustang was extensive — it appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved — and officials would not allow his team near the accident site. Two agonizing hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman was in “serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening.”
Hamlin, meanwhile, was trying to find the delicate balance of celebrating a milestone victory while showing proper respect to an injured driver. Initially unaware of Newman's situation, Hamlin did victory burnouts and celebrated with his team.
Not until Fox Sports said it would not interview him did Hamlin learn the severity of the situation. Team owner Joe Gibbs was apologetic for the No. 11 team's initial reaction.
“I was focusing on our car, and everybody started celebrating around us,” Gibbs said. “So I say to everybody out there, some people may have saw us and said, 'Well, these guys are celebrating when there's a serious issue going on.' I apologize to everybody, but we really didn't know.”