With Kyle Larson’s No. 32 car flying through the air, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, bottom right, avoids a massive crash on the last lap to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 race Saturday at the Daytona International Speedway.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart won Saturday’s Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway, but the elation of his victory disappeared in the wake of a heart-stopping wreck that saw Kyle Larson’s car demolished after flying into the crossover gate that provides access from the asphalt to the main grandstand.
As Stewart dodged the crash and crossed the finish line, the front clip of Larson’s car sheared off, ripping the engine out of its compartment. The front suspension and engine ended up on the walkway at the bottom of the stands.
A tire from Larson’s car also flew into the grandstands.
Regan Smith led as the cars approached the checkered flag, but Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski, who was running second, and turned across the nose of Keselowski’s car.
There were no immediate reports as to the extent of injuries, but emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene with stretchers and removed one spectator who was tightly strapped to the gurney. Other fans appeared to be receiving treatment at the scene.
At least 12 fans and one driver were injured. A hospital official at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, told the Daytona News-Journal that 11 spectators were being treated in the emergency room, with two of them critically injured.
Four of the fans were on trauma alert and five were being treated as non-trauma cases, the newspaper reported.
The last-lap wreck wasn’t the only serious incident of the event. A 13-car wreck in Turns 1 and 2, triggered by contact between the No. 43 Ford Mustang of Michael Annett and the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro of Austin Dillon — both championship hopefuls — stopped the race after 116 laps and set up the finish.
Annett was transported to Halifax Health Medical Center. Richard Petty Motorsports later reported that Annett, whose car slammed the outside wall nose-first, was treated for bruising on his chest and received a CT scan. He remains in the hospital for further observation.
The emergency in the grandstand tempered Stewart’s fifth victory in his last six February races at Daytona and the 11th Nationwide Series win of his career.
“Fortunately, with the way the event’s equipped up, there were plenty of emergency workers ready to go, and they jumped in on it pretty quickly,” NASCAR president Mike Helton told ESPN. “And right now, it’s just a function of trying to determine what all damage is done.”
Larson climbed from his car almost immediately and was evaluated and released from the infield care center.
Drivers, Larson included, were more concerned with the safety of the fans than the outcome of the race.
“The important thing is what’s going on on the front stretch right now,” Stewart said after climbing from his car. “We’ve always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it’s hard. We assume that risk. It’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.
“As much as we want to celebrate right now, as much as this is a big deal to us, I’m more worried about the drivers and fans in the stands right now. I could see it all in the mirror and it didn’t look good from where I was either.”
Smith said he wasn’t about to surrender the victory to Keselowski 200 yards from the finish line.
“We made a move to try and win the race,” Keselowski said. “We were in the catbird seat. Regan was in a good spot. He was first and I was second, and we were pushing. I kind of had the run and the move to win the race, and Regan obviously tried to block it, and that’s understandable.
Sam Hornish Jr. crossed the stripe in second place, followed by rookie Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Parker Kligerman.