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Ryan Newman’s horrific crash put a spotlight on how far NASCAR safety has come

Newman is in serious condition, but this could have been so much worse.

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NASCAR: Daytona 500 Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is in serious, but stable condition Tuesday morning following a horrific wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Monday night.

Newman was jockeying for position with Ryan Blaney during the final lap when his car was clipped, and veered right into the wall. It then jack knifed, before flipping onto its roof, and being hit by a Corey LaJoie’s car, sending it flying into the air.

Out of respect to Newman and his family, we’ve chosen not to show video of the crash here.

Responders at the scene acted quickly in cutting Newman from the car and rushing him to Halifax Medical Center immediately. Shortly after 10 p.m. local time, NASCAR issued a statement that Newman was in “serious condition,” adding doctors said his injuries “are not life threatening,” however there has been no further update since.

Roush Fenway Racing, Newman’s team, has not spoken extensively about the accident at this time, outside of giving a similar short statement to NASCAR, indicating Newman was OK, considering the severity of the wreck. Todd Gordon, Blaney’s crew chief told USA Today his team’s perspective on the accident.

“He blocked the top, and then he blocked the bottom too, and at that point when he blocked the bottom, I was just committed to pushing to win, try to get a Ford to win instead of [Hamlin].”

Regardless of what caused the accident itself, the fortunate outcome is a result of numerous safety innovations added to the sport in recent years. Had these improvements not been made the outcome of Newman’s accident could have been very different.

The push for safer racing started in 1988 with the addition of restrictor plates, and resurfaced following Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001. It was at this time NASCAR adopted the use of Head and Neck Support devices (HANS), which helped stabilize a driver’s head and neck to lessen the possibility of skull fractures in the event of an accident.

The biggest difference maker in the result of crashes like Newman’s came in 2007, when NASCAR overhauled the design of race cars themselves. Dubbed the “Car of Tomorrow,” the newly designed cars were built with sturdier chassis, better roll cages, and moved the position of the driver’s seat itself to be closer to the middle of the car, rather than to the side as found in a common street car. This meant when cars hit the wall, or were struck from the side, drivers had far more leeway before their bodies were in danger.

NASCAR will never be inherently safe, but further changes have been suggested to help protect drivers. Potential rules on pack racing could be implemented to reduce the amount of contact between cars, which, like all changes, will likely upset the sport’s purists. There’s room to continue to improve and innovate to make NASCAR safer, especially in light of Newman’s accident. This would shift the focus so people pay attention the races themselves, not accidents.

Update: On Wednesday Roush Fenway racing gave an update on his condition.

They also posted a photo of Newman with his children, showing that he is indeed making tremendous progress in recovery.

It wasn’t long after that we had another update, this time showing Newman walking out of hospital.