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NASCAR’s Ryan Newman: ‘I feel like a complete, walking miracle’

The driver will return to the series Sunday, three months after a horrific crash at the Daytona 500.
In this Feb. 17, 2020, file photo, Ryan Newman (6) goes airborne after crashing into Corey LaJoie (32) during the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Newman, who suffered a head injury, will race Sunday when NASCAR resumes its season at Darlington Raceway.
In this Feb. 17, 2020, file photo, Ryan Newman (6) goes airborne after crashing into Corey LaJoie (32) during the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Newman, who suffered a head injury, will race Sunday when NASCAR resumes its season at Darlington Raceway. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published May 14, 2020
Updated May 14, 2020

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman has no memories of his horrific crash at February’s Daytona 500. He doesn’t remember much of the race, either. Or his time in the hospital.

The first thing he remembers after the fiery, twisting wreck that could have killed him is walking out of the hospital with his arms around his two young daughters.

“I feel like a complete, walking miracle,” Newman said Thursday in a Zoom call with reporters.

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his daughters, Brooklyn Sage, left, and Ashlyn Olivia, leave Halifax Medical Center on Feb. 19 in Daytona Beach.
NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his daughters, Brooklyn Sage, left, and Ashlyn Olivia, leave Halifax Medical Center on Feb. 19 in Daytona Beach. [ AP ]

That miracle will walk another step forward Sunday when he and the Cup series return to racing at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for his first event since the Feb. 17 wreck and NASCAR’s first since it shut down because of the coronavirus March 13.

Newman said he still isn’t entirely certain how his accident happened. He was leading down the final stretch when Ryan Blaney bumped him, sending him into the wall. Newman’s car went airborne and flipped upside down before Corey LaJoie sped into the driver’s side of his No. 6 Ford.

Related: Ryan Newman’s crash was a reminder of racing’s danger. Why drivers keep racing, anyway.

Newman said he also doesn’t know for sure what LaJoie’s car hit inside his cockpit or the specifics of his injuries. But he does know that his helmet was “crushed,” that there was contact to his head and neck restraint, and that he was left with “a case of high-quality whiplash.”

Even so, Newman can’t explain how he walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days after the Feb. 17 accident.

Newman, 42, native credits his survival to several factors: The Roush Fenway Racing team that built a safe car. Industry manufacturers that have boosted safety over the past two decades. The brand-new, carbon-fiber helmet he had worn in only one previous Cup race. The first responders who helped him in the car and at the hospital.

Ryan Newman will make his return to NASCAR this weekend at Darlington.
Ryan Newman will make his return to NASCAR this weekend at Darlington. [ TERRY RENNA | AP ]

“Each layer of it, there were multiple miracles — big miracles, 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,” Newman said.

Newman hasn’t watched the full race or relived how close he came to a second victory in it. He has, however, seen replays of the wreck.

“As I watched the crash and had to make myself believe what I had went through, I really looked to my dad — ‘Hey, did this really happen?’ ” Newman said.

“It’s crazy. I’m happy I’m here.”

Related: Racing world reacts to Ryan Newman’s horrific Daytona 500 crash

About a month after the crash, Newman was back in the car for a test at his favorite track, Darlington. He said he had no fear or apprehension about returning.

“I was excited to get into the car,” Newman said. “Just really wanted to get back in and at it.”

Sunday, he’ll be back at it at Darlington.

He said he doesn’t expect to be apprehensive. He won’t have a backup driver or modifications to his setup.

“I’m hoping to do every lap,” Newman said, “and then one more after that.”

A victory lap.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

NASCAR RETURNS

What: Cup series Real Heroes 400

When/where: 3:30 Sunday, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway

TV: Fox