‘A better person’ after Daytona crash, Newman becomes organ donation spokesman


Ryan Newman is thankful to have the car that nearly killed him.

That’s one way to view the mangled No. 6 Ford that sits in the corner of a shop on his sprawling farmland near Statesville, North Carolina.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver was fortunate to survive the last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 that left him hospitalized for two days he still doesn’t remember.

Yet when his team (having received the car after thorough examination at the NASCAR R&D Center) asked Newman if he wanted a grim souvenir of the wreck, which left him with a head injury that sidelined him for three races before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, he didn’t hesitate.

“I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to have it,’” Newman told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “Not because it’s just a race car, but I tell people, how many chances do you have of a trophy of something that saved your life? And that’s how I look at it. That almost cost me my life, but it’s also the things that saved my life.

‘A COMPLETE WALKING MIRACLE’: Newman recounts savage crash

“I look at it as the guys that welded the car together, the guys that bolted the seat in, my helmet. All the things that saved me that day, those are trophies in my mind. That’s part of why it’s there. It’s educational for my kids, it’s educational for me, it’s educational for everyone in the garage area. And I appreciate that.”

It’s a glimpse of the hard-nosed, analytical side to be expected from Newman. The engineering graduate’s 19-year career in the NASCAR Cup Series has been defined by an adherence to persistence (Newman annually earns the unofficial title as toughest to pass in NASCAR) and a self-determination of grinding out consistent finishes with little sentimentality.

But a softer version has emerged since he escaped death at Daytona. Newman, who will turn 43 on Dec. 8, now talks openly about rediscovering the importance of being selfless and a newfound intensity of unconditional love for his two daughters that is “no doubt higher, way higher.”

While he stops short of labeling the crash as a life-altering, religious-tinged reckoning (“it wasn’t like it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve found God’; it was just another step”), Newman said he’s “probably more spiritual than I ever was. I’m more giving than I ever was. I’m more empathetic than I ever was. I’m probably a better dad. I’m a better person because I had that moment.

“So I don’t think it’s changed me, but I think it’s exaggerated the positive things that could have been me in the past, and I appreciate that. It’s changed me only in the way that it’s made me a better person.”

Driven to a new cause

The most obvious and public manifestation has been becoming an official spokesman for the Indiana Donor Network’s Driven2Save Lives program, which has driven more than 7,000 to sign up for organ donation.

Newman, a native of South Bend, Indiana, taped a recently launched commercial campaign at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, advocating for becoming a registered donor through the organization’s website (which takes less than a minute and is open to anyone nationally) and how to discuss donation with family members.

He was inspired by Bryan Clauson, the USAC driver who died following an Aug. 6, 2016 wreck during a Midget race in Belleville, Kansas. Clauson’s organs saved five lives (each donor can save up to eight), and his tissue continues to help others heal from injuries.

Having driven for Clauson Marshall Racing in the Chili Bowl this year (he is hoping to run the event again in January with the team, as well as the Driven2SaveLives BC39 Midget race in Clauson’s memory next year at IMS), Newman became intimately aware of the story and the Clauson family’s organ donor advocacy.

He already had been talking about how he could help further the cause before Daytona.

Ryan Newman thankful
Bryan Clauson at the 2015 Indianapolis 500 (IndyCar).

“Newman has always shown interest in helping us do whatever he can to help us spread the message and sign people up to be organ donors,” said Taylor McLean, Clauson’s sister who also works as a marketing specialist managing the Driven2SaveLives campaign for Indiana Donor Network.

“But after his crash, he kind of had this aha moment and came to me and said, ‘Look, this is something I’m really serious about.’ He just wants to help us in any way he can, and he has a second chance on life to be able to do that.”

A second chance, because Newman missed “coming full circle” as the latest race car driver turned organ donor by a few inches when his car was struck by Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 Ford at full speed after hitting the wall and turning upside down on a push from Ryan Blaney while trying to take the lead.

Ryan Newman thankful
Bryan Clauson

“What happened to me in Daytona in February was an opportunity to be just like Bryan, and I wasn’t,” Newman said. “I was left here to do it a different way, and I think it’s a great opportunity for me to be a part of Driven 2 Save Lives and to raise some awareness and represent what Bryan was, which is what Bryan is. I feel honored to be in this position and to give a little bit of my time to help out.”

Organ donation isn’t a new concept to Newman, who signed up as a teenager getting his first driver’s license (inspired then by his dad’s willingness to donate a kidney to his grandfather).

But Newman since has been touched by the legacy of Clauson, whose death occurred during a season in which he was trying to make 200 starts (including the 100th Indianapolis 500).

“Bryan was one of those guys that was giving long before he was gone,” Newman said. “He kind of inspired me to do the same thing. I didn’t realize how much like Bryan I was. Being an organ donor at such a young age, and having the inspiration to be giving like that. I’m not a giving person in general. I’m not the guy who calls you on your birthday. I’m the guy that gets reminded to call you on your birthday.

“I think that I just have a lot of respect for him and his family, and what he did and does. And what he’s still doing when he’s gone. He’s still here giving life to others and the legacy he carries and what his sister and dad and mom do is spectacular.”

Ryan Newman thankful
Ryan Newman helped shoot a commercial at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to raise awareness for organ donation (Driven2SaveLives).

Newman, whose career also began in USAC, didn’t know Clauson more than in passing, but he came to hear stories about his dirt racing prowess from fellow Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson during Saturday night viewings in infield motorhome lots at Cup tracks.

He admired Clauson’s ability and drive (“his chasing 200 was an inspiration and ultimate goal, and that’s what a lot of people lack in life is goals. Here you got a guy who wants to race 200 times and win them all”) but even more so his generous character and dedication to family. Newman has met the father of five who received Clauson’s heart.

“Unfortunately, he had to die to become a legend,” Newman said. “He made himself a legend because of the groundwork that he had laid personally, and that’s pretty special.”

‘Their prayers were answered’

Newman has a unique perspective from Daytona in that he got a sense for what life would be like without him.

Though he has no memory of anything that happened from the crash and his extrication from its harrowing aftermath until leaving the hospital (“I woke up with a headache, like it was a three-day long hangover. I’ve never been drunk to know, but that’s what I equate it”), he quickly became aware of “the outpouring of the emotion and people that reached out and told me so many things about how they prayed for me.

“Their prayers were answered,” he said. “Text messages from people that I hadn’t talked to in 10 or 20 years. It was like I died, but I didn’t. Like, I was at my own wake, but you almost had to pinch yourself to realize, ‘Hey, I’m actually still here’ because of the emotion that I got from other people that was real, but it was real for them and not real for me. The crazy part of it is the fans that reached out who I don’t know.”

There’s much more Newman doesn’t know about the crash. Before the Aug. 29 regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, he visited the medical staff at Halifax Medical Center to thank them and to reconstruct what happened.

Newman was told he went from barely breathing on arrival to stabilized within an hour – and with CT scans that “the pictures of my brain looked good.” But “the switch didn’t get turned back on” until shortly before Newman walked out of the hospital with daughters Brooklyn and Ashlyn. In a famous image, he still was wearing his hospital socks.

“They said I rebelled against putting shoes on,” Newman said with a laugh. “I don’t know why. You can always blame the medication in this situation. They tried to make me put shoes on, but I would not do it. I went full hillbilly.”

And he’s been more of a full-time father ever since. The two-month pandemic break allowed time for Newman to recover from bruising to his brain while spending more time helping his girls with homework (he enjoys reliving the teaching of zoology, botany, math and science) and then “we go feed the cows, we can go feed the deer, we can move some dirt. We can ride dirt bikes. It’s just things like that that I’m so blessed with being in the position to be a little bit more aware of those things.”

As thankful as he is this season, Newman has no major plans for Thanksgiving, which he sees more as the beginning of the month-long run-up to Christmas.

“I’m not a turkey guy; I like to eat ham,” he said in his typically deadpan wit. “So it’s not like Thanksgiving was ever meant to be my holiday.”

Besides, it’s easy to remain grateful when he’s around the shop, where he often encourages visitors to marvel at the miracle of his Daytona accident.

“It sucks I have to have a junk race car for a trophy,” Newman said. “I’d much rather have the winning car, but it’s not the way it unfolded that day. It literally folded up into pieces.

“I still view it as a trophy. It’s just not a pretty trophy.”

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on goprn.com. … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)

Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming a potent combination


Crew chief Randall Burnett admits that work remains, pointing to his team’s struggles on short tracks, but what he and Kyle Busch have achieved in their first year together is among the key storylines of this Cup season.

Since moving from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, Busch has won three races, tying William Byron for most victories this season.

“Our plan is to win a lot with Kyle,” car owner Richard Childress said after Busch won last weekend at WWT Raceway.

Only four times since 2008 has a new driver/crew chief combination won three of the first 15 races in a Cup season.

Busch has been that driver three times. The only other driver to do so in the last 15 years was Mark Martin in 2009 with Alan Gustafson.

Busch won three of the first 15 races in 2008 with Steve Addington. Busch also did so in 2015 with Adam Stevens. Busch went on to win the first of his two Cup championships that season.

What makes Busch’s achievement this year stand out is the limited track time Cup drivers have compared to 2008 and ’15. It wasn’t uncommon then to have three practice sessions per race weekend — totaling more than two hours. That gave new driver/crew chief combinations plenty of time on track and afterward to discuss how the car felt and what was needed.

With one practice session of about 20 minutes most Cup race weekends these days, drivers and crew chiefs don’t have that luxury. They have simulators, and crew chiefs have more data than before, but it can still take time for new partnerships to work.

“We do spend a lot of time on the simulator with Kyle,” Burnett told NBC Sports this week.

Burnett also says that SMT data has helped his understanding of what Busch needs in a car.

“I can watch what is going on during the race and maybe anticipate a little bit of what he’s got going on vs. having to wait for him to describe it to me without kind of doing it blind,” Burnett said.

Burnett admits that as each week goes by, the communication with Busch gets better.

“I’m learning the right adjustments to make when he says a certain thing,” Burnett said. “So, getting that notebook built up a little bit, I think is helping us.”

The pairing of Busch, Burnett and the No. 8 team was intriguing before the season. Burnett helped Tyler Reddick win three races last year. Busch came to RCR motivated to prove that four wins in his final three seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing was an aberration. Busch averaged more than five Cup victories a season from 2015-19.

While the combination of an elite driver and a rising team looked to be a potent match, not everything meshed. Burnett notes that it wasn’t as if the No. 8 team could use all of Reddick’s setups with Busch.

“Kyle likes to drive a little bit tighter race car, while Tyler liked to drive a little bit looser race car,” Burnett said. “We can’t just plug and play everything that we had last year that we had success with. We kind of have got to adapt it and make it work.”

There’s still room for growth. In the last 10 races, Busch has two wins, a runner-up finish, five top 10s but also five finishes of 14th or worse. Busch enters this weekend’s race at Sonoma with three consecutive top-10 finishes, tied for his longest streak of the season.

“We’ve had some really good runs,” Busch said after last weekend’s victory. “We’ve had three wins obviously, which is great, but we’ve also had some of the dismal days as well. We’ve had peaks and valleys so far this year.”

No crew chief, though, has won as often as Burnett has in the last 34 races, dating back to last July’s Road America race. He has six wins during that time. Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Kyle Larson, and Stevens, crew chief for Christoper Bell, are next with four wins each.

Burnett’s victories have come at a variety of tracks. He won on two road courses with Reddick (Road America and Indianapolis) and a 1.5-mile track with Reddick (Texas). Burnett’s victories with Busch have come at a 2-mile track (Fontana), a superspeedway (Talladega) and a 1.25-mile track (WWT Raceway).

“I think the Next Gen car really helped reset our program and kind of took those disadvantages we have had, whether it be aero or something we were missing with our vehicle geometry, whatever it may have been that we were lacking in speed with on the Gen-6 car, the Next Gen car was kind of the great equalizer,” Burnett said.

“I think our group really adapted to that well, and said, ‘OK, now, we’re back on a level playing field. How are we going to stay on top of this? What choices are we going to make? How are we going to make our cars better each week?’ … I think everybody, especially on this No. 8 team, works really well together.”

2. Teaching the way 

Tyler Reddick enters Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway as one of the favorites, having won three of the last five events on road courses, including earlier this season at Circuit of the Americas.

One of the things he learned on his climb to Cup was to have the proper attitude, a lesson he’s trying to teach his son Beau.

“We will have foot races, and he’s so damn competitive,” Reddick told NBC Sports about Beau. “He expects to be able to beat me in a foot race even though he’s 3 years old. When he loses, he loses his mind.

“That takes me back to when I was younger and kind of the same way.”

Reddick said what changed him was when he ran dirt late models.

“I ran those things for five, six years and won only a handful of times,” he said. “I just got my ass kicked all the time by guys that had been racing late models longer than I had been alive. I think you really appreciate the nice days. The days that were tough, I think in a weird way, it helped me manage those tougher days and just go right back to work and get right back into the (proper) mindset.

“I think back, there was definitely a time when I was a lot younger, running outlaw karts and doing all this stuff where like if I didn’t win two out of three classes or three out of the four classes I was running, I was really upset.”

That’s what he sees in his son’s competitive spirit.

Reddick said he noticed his Cup rookie season in 2020 that the attitude he had when younger “started to creep back in a little bit.

“But you know, the way to get out of it is just work harder. … It’s like why get mad when you can just take that, instead of expelling that anger publicly or at the people that are part of your team supporting you, why expel it that way? Just go take that energy and apply it to getting better.”

3. Looking ahead 

Although Aric Almirola signed a multi-year contract with Stewart-Haas Racing in August 2022, he told reporters this week that his future plans are “fluid.”

Almirola announced before the 2022 season that it would his final year driving full-time in Cup. He was brought back with sponsor Smithfield with the multi-year deal.

Almirola talked this week about the importance of family. He also said how that would weigh in his plans beyond this season.

“It’s still about making sure that I’m having fun and enjoying driving the race car and making sure that I can be a husband and a father and all those things, and not sacrifice that,” he said.

“I love what I do. I love my job. I love my career, but at the end of the day chasing a little bit more money and more trophies and those things is not what it’s about for me.”

Almirola, who formerly drove for Richard Petty’s team briefly in 2010 and from 2012-17, also shared a story about Petty that impacts him.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Richard, and he doesn’t ever sit down at Thanksgiving with all 200 of his trophies, ever,” Almirola said. “He sits down at Thanksgiving with his family, and he sits down to share a meal with people he cares about.

“All the time I’ve ever gotten to spend with him and talk about things outside of racing and talking about life, he’s been a huge impact on me just being able to recognize and realize that you don’t always have to chase the success, because it doesn’t really define who you are once you stop driving a race car.

“What defines who you are is how you treat other people and how you are with the people you love.”

4. More than $1 million

Last week, I spotlighted how fines for Cup technical infractions were near $1 million this season and the season isn’t half over.

The sport topped $1 million in fines for Cup technical infractions this week. As part of the penalties to Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club for an L1 infraction discovered at the R&D Center, NASCAR fined crew chief Dave Elenz $75,000 and suspended him two races.

Among the top fines this year:

$400,000 ($100,000 to each of the four Hendrick teams) as part of the penalties for modifications to hood louvers at Phoenix.

$250,000 as part of the penalties for the counterfeit part on the Stewart-Haas Racing car of Chase Briscoe. That issue was discovered at the R&D Center after the Coca-Cola 600.

$100,000 as part of the penalties to Kaulig Racing for modification of a hood louver on Justin Haley‘s car at Phoenix.

All the money from fines goes to the NASCAR Foundation.

5. Last year and this year

Something to think about.

Last year after 15 races, there were 11 different winners.

This year after 15 races, there are 10 different winners.

Last year after 15 races, the top six in points were separated by 40 points.

This year after 15 races, the top eight in points are separated by 44 points.

Rick Hendrick hopes rough racing settles down after Chase Elliott suspension


LE MANS, France (AP) — Rick Hendrick fully supports Chase Elliott as he returns from a one-race suspension for deliberately wrecking Denny Hamlin, but the team owner believes on-track aggression has gotten out of control this season and NASCAR sent a message by parking the superstar.

“Until something was done, I think that kind of rough racing was going to continue,” Hendrick told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Elliott missed last week’s race outside St. Louis as the five-time fan-voted most popular driver served a one-race suspension for retaliating against Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The two had made contact several times, with Elliott hitting the wall before he deliberately turned left into Hamlin to wreck him.

Hamlin immediately called on NASCAR to suspend Elliott, which the sanctioning body did despite his star power and the effect his absence from races has on TV ratings. Elliott missed six races earlier this season with a broken leg suffered in a snowboarding crash and NASCAR lost roughly 500,000 viewers during his absence.

Hendrick, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with NASCAR’s special Garage 56 project, told the AP he understood the suspension. NASCAR last year suspended Bubba Wallace one race for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson, another Hendrick driver.

“Pushing and shoving, it’s a fine line, and when someone puts you out of the race, you get roughed up, emotions take over and you react,” Hendrick said. “I think maybe guys will run each other a little bit cleaner moving forward. “We understand the suspension, and nobody really likes to have to go through that, but you just do it and move on.”

Hendrick said he believes drivers have gotten far too aggressive with the second-year Next Gen car, which has not only tightened the field but is a durable vehicle that can withstand bumping and banging. Contact that used to end a driver’s day now barely leaves a dent.

It’s led to drivers being more forceful and, in Hendrick’s opinion, too many incidents of drivers losing their cool.

“There’s rubbing. But if you just harass people by running them up into the wall, every time you get to them, you get tired of it,” Hendrick said. “And that’s what so many of them do to cause accidents, but then they don’t get in the accident themselves.

“I think everybody understands the rules. But you’ve got an awful lot of tension and when you’re out their racing like that, and you are almost to the finish, and somebody just runs over you for no reason, I think the cars are so close and it’s so hard to pass, they get frustrated.”

Elliott, with seven missed races this season, is ranked 27th in the standings heading into Sunday’s road course race in Sonoma, California. He’s been granted two waivers by NASCAR to remain eligible for the playoffs, but the 2020 champion needs to either win a race or crack the top 16 in standings to make the field.

An outstanding road course racer with seven wins across several tracks, Elliott will be motivated to get his first win of the season Sunday at Sonoma, one of the few road courses on the schedule where he’s winless.

Hendrick said when he spoke to Elliott he urged him to use caution moving forward.

“I just said ‘Hey, we’ve got to be careful with that,’” Hendrick said. “But I support him, I really do support him. You get roughed up and it ruins your day, you know, you let your emotions take over.”