In 2018, I got the chance to attend the Daytona 500 as part of a good friend’s bachelor party. We had a blast that weekend watching the race and seeing Austin Dillon take his first Daytona 500 win in an exciting last lap. That was my first time at Daytona International Speedway and the experience turned me into a forever fan of the 500. As such, I eagerly awaited the start of the 2020 race.
By the time I got home Monday evening from the Babcox Media office, picked up my son from daycare and finally sat down on the couch to flip on the race, it was the start of Stage 3.
“Perfect,” I thought to myself. “I’ve got 50+ laps to watch and plenty of action to take in.” Boy was I correct! It seemed the field was almost entirely intact at that point and remained so until lap 17 when Joey Logano shoved Aric Almirola into the car in front of him, which resulted in “The Big One,” wrecking half the field.
From here on out, it seemed the drivers couldn’t go but a few laps without someone causing the caution flag. The 2020 Daytona 500 ultimately came down to overtime laps and a final lap, which for those of us who watched, won’t soon be forgotten. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of who won.
Before Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag for his third Daytona 500 title in five years, it was Ryan Newman’s crash on the last turn that got everyone’s attention. In an attempt to block a charge from Ryan Blaney, Newman’s car got spun into the wall, flipped in the air and rammed into on the driver’s side door at full speed. The crash was horrific, to say the least.
Of course, this crash was only partially witnessed by the drivers in the top five spots as they crossed the finish line in what was the second-closest finish in Daytona 500 history. Then came the criticism of Fox and NASCAR for allowing celebrations from those watching at home. My question to all of you is, what would you have done?
Denny Hamlin seemed more or less reserved as he crossed the line – probably more so because of how close the result was than due to Newman’s crash. He then went on to do the routine celebratory donuts on the Daytona 500 painted infield and got kudos from his pit crew.
This all happened just a few moments after viewers at home knew Ryan Newman was still in his car and safety crews were working to address the situation. Many people wondered why Fox and NASCAR were allowing a celebration to take place when Newman’s status was still unknown.
To that, I say, you have to allow the celebration and finish the coverage. I personally felt the crash and win, happening at the same time, was handled as it should have been. It wasn’t as if safety crews weren’t attending to Newman to get him out of the car. They were doing their jobs.
Hamlin admitted later that he removed his race radio and didn’t know what was happening with Newman. However, racers, including Hamlin, all sent out thoughts and prayers for Newman’s safety. Just like us at home, the drivers didn’t know any more than we did, so for people to say that the celebration of the biggest race in NASCAR should have been held, doesn’t make sense to me. How long are you going to wait? Does waiting make it worse?
Granted, NASCAR and Fox probably should have made sure they didn’t have a fatality on their hands, which they very well may have known. But to reserve a celebration and force all viewers to watch Newman and the safety crew work would have been awful. You would have had a celebration 20-30 minutes after the fact, making it far more awkward, and frankly, not much of a celebration at that point knowing Newman was taken away to the hospital.
Let’s liken this to the NFL. Do you honestly think if an NFL player was injured on the last play of a Super Bowl that the winning team wouldn’t still celebrate and the stadium wouldn’t release confetti – of course they would. I’m glad Denny Hamlin got to celebrate as he should after winning a race like the 500, and winning it like he did, for the third time! Only five other drivers have won the Daytona 500 three or more times, and only four have won back-to-back years.
Was it unfortunate that it came at the expense of Newman’s horrific crash? Yes. But if you ask any driver – any driver – they’d all tell you they know the risk of the sport and what they do on the track at 200 mph is extremely dangerous.
Had the crash happened at a different point in the race, this would have been handled a lot differently. However, it literally happened in the last two seconds of the race. There was virtually no way to stop Hamlin from doing donuts and celebrating with the team because they simply didn’t know the extent of Newman’s crash. As NASCAR and Fox did, I think you have to play it out while safety crews were attending to Newman and just face whatever backlash there was.
Let’s not overlook what a miracle it was that Ryan Newman was released from the hospital just two days after a crash that would have 100% killed him if it occurred 5, 10, 15 or 20 years earlier. That’s a huge testament to NASCAR’s safety efforts in those race cars.
So, what side are you on? EB