Tony Stewart Avoids Chaos to Win the DRIVEFORCOPD 300 at Daytona; Multiple Fans Hurt on Last Lap Wreck

By Joseph Wolkin
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

How he was able to avoid that wreck is truly unbelievable. Tony Stewart has won his seventh NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona. NASCAR’s safety innovations were truly tested as there were two unbelievable wrecks that involved the majority of the field which could’ve been worse than they were, if that’s possible.

“You want to put on good races, but not while risking the lives of fans,” Tony Stewart said in Victory Lane.

Stewart made it clear that winning the race wasn’t what he cared about. The aggressive guy that he is showed a different side to him when the checkered flag flew after he avoided arguably the worst wreck in recent years. It’s being reported that paramedics rushed to the front stretch grandstands where Kyle Larson’s car flipped right into the grandstand. Larson’s car was completely dismantled. The engine and a whole bunch of other parts including a tire were sitting right next to the SAFER barrier as parts and pieces went billowing over the catch fence. It looked like a scene from Final Destination, fans throughout social media outlets are frantically sending their wishes as they hope no one was seriously injured.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The wreck started when Regan Smith went to block Brad Keselowski entering the tri-oval and the chaos erupted from there. Updates were not given out immediately by Daytona International Speedway officials but multiple fans have been confirmed to be injured. After Smith spun, basically everyone else was involved and the mess just went all over the place. Parts of Larson’s engine were on the fans’ side of the grandstands which caused concern for why NASCAR hasn’t changed the setup of the catch fence as this has happened before and can happen again.

In the previous incident, with five laps to go, Michael Annett, who was pushing Elliott Sadler at the time, turned into Austin Dillon. Also involved within that incident included Sam Hornish Jr., Jeffrey Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, Johanna Long, Jamie Dick, Hal Martin, Jason White, Danny Efland and Parker Kligerman. Annett was airlifted to Halifax Medical Center in downtown Daytona where he is being evaluated for further injuries which are unknown at this time. Fans and drivers could tell the wreck was going to happen as drivers were amping up the intensity as laps whined down. Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer reported that Annett was awake and alert while being tested at the hospital which is a positive sign for sure.

The DRIVEFORCOPD 300 had a race record 2o different leaders with 35 lead changes. Rounding out the top-10 unofficially included Hornish Jr., Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kligerman, Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier, Eric McClure, Robert Richardson Jr. and Travis Pastrana. However, it’s highly doubtful that anyone can celebrate a good finish with the way the race finished.

NASCAR President Mike Helton stated that the catch fences did do their job and track officials are working vigorously to make sure everyone in the grandstands are okay. INDY CAR Series driver and former NASCAR driver, Dario Franchitti said on Twitter that he felt it’s time for the sanctioning bodies of each series needs to make the grandstands safer.

As for the race, drivers which usually don’t run upfront were given the opportunity to lead laps and get some television time which they usually don’t receive which helped out those smaller teams. The paycheck will definitely help out the smaller teams. Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the day as Kyle Busch led 22 laps as he and Matt Kenseth worked together throughout the majority other race. Smith was on the way to win, but he was clearly involved in the wreck. Danica Patrick had a good car but blew an engine on lap 31 to end her day.

The most important thing at this time is the condition of the race fans. There should be more to come in the following days as NASCAR will release more information in the days to come.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.

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