At least 28 people were injured, two critically, during a multi-car pileup on the last lap of the NASCAR Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday — with one car going airborne, slamming into the catchfence and sending debris flying into the crowd.
Track officials gave the number of injured as 28, but The Associated Press, citing local officials, later reported at least 30 were hurt.
As racers made their final moves for the win, Kyle Larson’s car was launched into the fence, cars crashed around him and Tony Stewart took the checkered flag.
The suspension and tires from Larson’s car flew into the fence, with one tire sailing over it. The front end also was sheared off of Larson’s car, but the driver climbed from it.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III confirmed that 14 people were transported off property and an additional 14 were treated in the at-track care center.
“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,” Chitwood read from a prepared statement Saturday night. “Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately. … We’re in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow.”
Chitwood said that those injured were located in the section just outside where Larson’s car hit the fence and the crossover gate. Chitwood declined to give an update on injuries.
Halifax Medical Center spokesman Byron Cogdell said 12 spectators were treated in the hospital’s emergency room, seven from injuries related to the crash — including one with life-threatening injuries and one minor in critical condition — and five non-related issues. According to SPEED and AP, overnight all patients were upgraded from critical to stable.
Chitwood said the track would complete a standard review of the facility on Saturday night.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 was to go on as scheduled.
“At this point as we responded to the incident, we transported immediately to those patients that needed critical assistance,” he said. “We’ll review ourselves in terms of where the debris flew and what we need to do with that.”
The crash happened as the race was coming to an end.
Regan Smith was leading the drafting pack common to races at Daytona — cars running high speeds inches off one another’s bumpers and two- and three-wide. He moved to block Brad Keselowski, who bumped him. He checked up and the cars piled into the incident.
Sam Hornish Jr. hit Keselowski and Larson, who was running sixth at the time, was launched over Keselowski’s car and into the 22-foot tall catchfence about 75 yards from the finish line.
Larson, Smith, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joe Nemechek, Robert Richardson, Trevor Bayne, Mike Wallace, Travis Pastrana, Elliott Sadler, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, and Justin Allgaier were all involved in the accident. All drivers were evaluated and released from the infield care center.
“I was getting pushed from behind I felt like,” Larson said. “By the time my spotter could say lift or go low, it was too late. I was in the wreck. It felt like it was slowing down. I felt like I could see the ground. I had some flames come into the cockpit but luckily I was all right and could get out of the car quick.
“I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone. (I) just hope everybody is all right. (I’m) just disappointed."
Keselowski outlined the accident from his view.
“We made a move to try and win the race," he 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. He wants to win too and at the end it just caused chaos. There was obviously a big wreck with a lot of debris and cars torn up. I really hope everyone in the grandstands is OK. I think that’s the most important thing right now.
"From my view, it was a shot to win the race and I had it, and I wanted to get the Discount Tire Ford in Victory [Lane]. It’s the first run for 2013 at Daytona and I made the move to do it, but it just didn’t turn out right.”
Now, it’s up to NASCAR and track officials to review the incident and determine any potential future changes to be made.
No major alterations will be in place for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday, though.
Chitwood said that the only change expected for Sunday as the fencing is replaced is that, “We will not have time to put the crossover gate that was there, so it will be strictly fencing for tomorrow.”
As NASCAR studies the incident, the gate will be one of the areas it researches.
“I think we look at this after every incident,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “We’ve learned in the past certain protocols put in place today are a result of prior incidents. Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it’s certainly something we’ll look at. If we can improve upon it, we’ll certainly put that in play as soon as we can.”
As to the area where the injured fans were seated, Chitwood said he does not expect any changes there.
“We don’t anticipate moving any of our fans,” he said. “We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes.”
O’Donnell cautioned that it is early to be making assessments, but that NASCAR will evaluate the incident. Asked about the car coming apart, he said officials would look into that as well.
“We’re really early in what we’ve seen,” he said. “Some of the things we have in place, tethers, that sort of thing, held up, did their job. But certainly when you look at this incident, there are some things we can learn and evaluate. We’ll take the car, we’ll do that. We’ll evaluate the fencing and see if there’s anything we can learn from where gates are.
“But, again, really initial right now. I think we need to take the time to really study it and see what we can improve on. If we can, certainly the safety of our fans is first and foremost and we’ll make that happen.”
Series sponsor Nationwide Insurance chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius issued a statement concerning the incident.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the fans and their loved ones who were affected by today’s incident,” Jauchius said. “We would like to commend NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and the medical personnel involved for their quick response to the situation.
“We appreciate the updates on NASCAR driver Michael Annett, who was injured in an earlier accident today, and wish him a fast and full recovery.”
As to Sunday’s Daytona 500, O’Donnell said the track will be ready.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be ready for tomorrow’s event with the 55th running of the Daytona 500,” he said. “As with any of these incidents, we’ll conduct a thorough review and work closely with the tracks as we do with all our events, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future.”