Safety improvements likely saved Ryan Newman’s life at Daytona 500

Ryan Newman awake, speaking to family after fiery crash

Drivers long before Ryan Newman were injured or killed to set in motion the safety improvements that protected Newman and fans at this year's Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Long before Ryan Newman’s Daytona 500 crash, drivers were injured or killed setting into motion the safety improvements that protected the race car driver and fans at this year’s race.

Kyle Busch broke his leg and foot when he crashed into a bare concrete wall at the Daytona International Speedway in 2015 in the Xfinity Series race one day before the Daytona 500.

Immediately after, then-track president Joie Chitwood promised it would never happen again and vowed to install SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers on “every inch” of the Speedway.

A year later, the safety barriers were completed as part of the $400 million Daytona Rising makeover.

Monday night, Newman slammed into the SAFER barrier at speeds around 200 mph. The barrier absorbed much of the impact, as it is designed to, bouncing Newman’s car back onto the track.

“NASCAR has done a fantastic job with the evolution of race cars,” Nascar driver Denny Hamlin said after Monday night’s finish. “Helmet manufacturers, suit manufacturers, HANS [Head And Neck Support] devices, there’s just been so much development that has come a long way.”

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In 2013, Kyle Larson crashed and slid along the wall during the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona.

His car was torn apart by the catch fence, sending searing-hot car parts including a tire into the stands, injuring 33 fans and sending about half of those fans to area hospitals.

After that wreck, the Speedway management upgraded the catch fence, reinforced crossover gates and moved back the front row of seats.

None of the debris from Newman's car caused any injuries to fans Monday night.

In 2001, Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash at Daytona led to NASCAR mandating the HANS system. Earnhardt's head snapped forward when he crashed into the unprotected wall.

Newman was wearing a head and neck support system when his car was hit and went airborne.

The steel tubular roll cage protected his fragile body as the car was hit again near the driver's side window and tumbled over and over.

The newest generation of stock cars includes reinforced steel bars in the roof to protect a driver hit on the roof or landing on the roof.

“And the sport has been very fortunate to not have anything freak or anything happen for many, many years but a lot of that is because the development and constantly strive to make things better and safer,” Hamlin said.

Less than 24 hours after a fiery crash in the final moments of the Daytona 500, Ryan Newman is awake and speaking with loved ones and doctors at Halifax Medical Center.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.