Next month, Ryan Newman will have to return to the site of his frightening crash in the season opening Daytona 500 not once, but twice. See, due to the pandemic, NASCAR had to cancel the race weekend at Watkins Glen this year. In its place is a road course race on Aug. 16 at the Daytona International Speedway. Then, 13 days later, they return for the new regular season finale on the oval for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Aug. 29.
Both visits will be emotional for Newman. See, Daytona is the place that changed his life this past February. Just days before the ‘500, Newman and his wife announced that they were going to separate. Then, three days later, we all feared for his life as he was involved in a violent last lap crash of the Daytona 500 while he was leading coming to the checkered flag.
Amazingly, Newman walked out of the Halifax Medical Center just a stones throw from DIS less than 48 hours later with his daughters on each side of him. While he had a recovery process, with the pandemic causing a lengthy break in the season from March into May, the Roush Fenway Racing driver really only missed three races.
Since his return to the No. 6 Ford, Newman has been up front and honest about the crash and his recovery process. He said he has no memory of the crash and if he didn’t see a replay, he wouldn’t believe it happened to him. He’s lucky that the only major injury that he even suffered was a brain injury to which he says now that he’s fully healed from.
“No, I feel fine,” Newman said on Tuesday. “I’ve been good, even after hitting the wall as hard as we did, which wasn’t near as hard as everybody else did it at Indy. I’ve been fine. No issues, just trying to get some more speed and balance in our Roush Fenway Ford Mustang, so that’s been really the focus. Healthwise, I feel 100 percent.”
Newman, will definitely be the talk of the sport when the series goes back to Daytona in a couple of weeks for the road course races. While it’s going to be emotional, he says that every day since that February crash has been in general.
“I guess after February I’m pretty emotional every day,” said Newman. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to continue on. I get to hit the reset button in a roundabout way, not with my life, but the reality is just to continue to play on.
“I will probably be some sort of emotional going back to Daytona, but I don’t see it being a whole lot different than the kind of emotion I had getting in the car at Talladega or even going back to Darlington for that matter when I went and did my first test.”
Now that he’s had time to process what has happened and evaluate his life now, Newman admitted that he does go back and replay what could have happened differently in February. While he has no memory, he replays in his mind from the replays that he’s seen and if that crash doesn’t happen, where would his life be today?
“No doubt I’ve thought about it, but the reality is it’s not the truth, it’s not what happened, it’s the what could have been and everybody has that in their season,” said Newman. “We have to do our job to go back and kind of replay those events and make corrections to whatever mistakes or whatever differences we can to try to be victorious.
“That doesn’t go just for Daytona, that goes for every racetrack. The season no doubt has been a challenge in so many ways for so many people and our team, I feel like we’ve struggled a little bit, but I feel like we have the things that we need to make the corrections to be better and be stronger and be successful, so we’re just gonna keep our nose to the grindstone and carry on.”
Newman, is in a position to where he is going to have to win a race over the final eight events of the regular season to get into the playoffs. Missing those three races in March is why. But, never say never for a driver like Newman.
While it’s hard to go this long without a win and have realistic championship aspirations, it’s not like it’s impossible either.
“I completely agree with you,” said Newman. “It does become more difficult as you get to this point in the season, if you haven’t been successful, to play catch-up. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
Newman points to the 2014 season in which he went winless all year but still found his way to the Championship 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway that season vying for a title.
“I do believe that the map is there to do what we did in 2014,” Newman continued. “Now, keep in mind, we did that with quite a bit of drama amongst the rest of our peers to get to that point.
“There was some crashing. There was some fighting. There was a little bit of laying low and playing it safe that helped progress us to that point where we were in the final four and, at the same time, we barely made that.
“We made it by one point, one spot. I think that, like I said, it’s still possible. It’s still a reality mathematically, but I would love to be that guy that’s the high point guy going into the last 10.”
Newman thinks that it’s possible and Daytona could be a storybook spot to win at to make himself playoff eligible. With an unknown about both races, Newman talks safety too.
“Controlling the speed is obviously very important no matter what racetrack we go to and as we get to this situation with different angles of impact and walls and things like that, that we’re not used to, I guess my personal opinion on safety is not necessarily the slower the better, but the slower the safer. That’s just something that definitely needs to be considered and obviously has been considered otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it, but I feel like if you are gonna do this, you have to err towards the side of safety and that will be with lesser speeds and trying to calculate what risk is involved with, again, the angle of impacts that we could have to entertain.”