When Ryan Newman went to Darlington Raceway last month as part of the process to be medically cleared by NASCAR, he felt no apprehension climbing back into a car for the first time since his Daytona 500 crash.
“I was so excited and ready to go and just kind of prove myself that I actually had to slow myself down and make sure that I didn’t go out there and fence it on the first lap by trying too hard,” Newman said during a zoom media conference this week. “So I never felt like I had to be apprehensive toward it, other than the fact that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t mess up my own test.”
Newman said his first five laps topped last year’s Southern 500 pole speed of 172.487 mph by William Byron.
Newman ran 30 laps that day. He showed no issues from the brain bruise he suffered in the last-lap crash at Daytona that forced him to be hospitalized two days.
He missed three races before the Cup season was suspended by the coronavirus outbreak. NASCAR medically cleared him to race last month and he’ll make his return Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
“I feel like a complete walking miracle,” Newman said.
Newman says that as he reflects on all that came together to protect him during the savage crash.
“Everything aligned in so many ways,” he said. “The safety workers, the personnel that were involved, that were inside the car with me, spent time with me during and after the crash, every layer of it there was multiple miracles – big miracles and little miracles, in my opinion – that aligned for me to be able to walk out days later with my hands around my daughters and to be thankful, so I can’t answer all of those things and I don’t think anybody can when miracles do happen, but we need to be thankful for that.”
Newman notes that the Daytona 500 was just the second race he had used his carbon fiber helmet.
He said that his helmet was struck in the incident — he’s unsure if it was by Corey LaJoie’s car or something inside his car. Whatever it was, Newman said the contact “crushed” the helmet. In a March 11 interview on NBC’s “Today” show Newman said his car’s roll cage was “compromised” in the accident. NASCAR has since mandated additional support in the car.
“My helmet did have contact and my HANS did have contact, and I was being moved backwards in my seat as (LaJoie’s) car was moving me forward,” Newman said. “So I can’t honestly tell you what percentage of that inertia and those physics that went into the actual action of the crash were being driven by his car hitting me or his car hitting my roll bars.
“It’s not a fair assessment to say, but everything happened really quick and everything was all in that compartment, basically, and I guess it would be like a case of high-quality whiplash that kind of happened when I was hit.”
Newman said he remembers little about the accident but recalls some of what happened after his car came to stop upside down beyond the exit of pit road. The car was eventually rolled over with Newman inside. Safety workers extricated Newman 15 minutes, 40 seconds after the car came to rest, according to NASCAR.
“I know that I was fighting the medical crew there for a little while and they kind of helped me out in more ways than one,” Newman said. “But I really don’t have any recollection of the last lap and everything after that until I walked out of the hospital with my daughters (two days later).”
When Newman later watched video of the crash, he turned to his dad and said: “Hey, did this really happen?”
Questions remain if he suffered a concussion. Newman said doctors gave him different assessments on that.
“I kind of put it in layman’s terms of having a bruised brain because everybody knows what a bruise is,” Newman said of his injury. “You can’t see a concussion. It’s just a medical diagnosis, but a bruise you can see and the part of your brain or the fact that my brain was injured, I guess, in this accident to the point that it knocked me out and I don’t remember the actual parts of the accident that day, tells me that something happened.
“So I kind of self-diagnosed myself with that bruised brain because the reality is you need to give time for a bruise to heal. That’s what I needed was time for my brain to heal. I’ve really felt completely normal since, I guess in the last eight weeks no problem, no question. That doesn’t mean that I was and that’s why when it comes time to having a bruise heal, especially one you can’t see, you have to be extra careful.”
Healed, now the focus returns to racing.
NASCAR has granted Newman a waiver should he need it to qualify for the playoffs. He enters this weekend 29th in the driver standings, 54 points out of a potential playoff position.
“We certainly recognize that the easiest path to make the playoffs is win a race,” Kevin Kidd, competition director for Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “We’re going to do everything in our power to accomplish that.”
Newman is not phased by returning to run five Cup races in 14 days, starting Sunday.
“I’ve done several races in several days in a row before, that’s no big deal,” he said. “I feel like the way the schedule is set, doing the one-day shows, you wouldn’t be doing something that we physically weren’t capable of or asked upon us by everybody that’s involved, and that’s from driving the race car to the hauler drivers and the pit crews and everybody involved. So I think that’s not a big deal. It’s not an easy ask, but I don’t think that’s insurmountable.”