Celebration Muted as Last-Lap Crash Sends Debris Into Stands, Injuring Fans

 

Date:              Feb. 23, 2013

Event:             DRIVE4COPD 300 (Round 1 of 33)

Series:            NASCAR Nationwide Series

Location:         Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)

Start/Finish:    10th/1st (Running, completed 120 of 120 laps)

Winner:           Tony Stewart of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet)

Tony Stewart won his record-tying seventh NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, joining the legendary Dale Earnhardt.

Stewart, driver of the No. 33 Ritz Crackers/Oreo Chevrolet Camaro, led the final three laps of the 120-lap race around the 2.5-mile superspeedway to claim the victory in the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300. The celebration was muted, however, as a last-lap, multi-car crash on the track’s frontstretch sent debris into the grandstands, injuring fans.

“We’ve always known that racing is a dangerous sport. As drivers, we assume that risk. But it’s hard when fans get caught up in it,” said a subdued Stewart from victory lane. “This win is a big deal to us, but I’m more worried about the fans in the stands and the drivers involved. I could see it all in the mirror and it didn’t look good from where I was either.”

Of the 12 drivers involved in the accident, all but one was evaluated and released from the infield care center. Michael Annett was the lone driver taken to nearby Halifax Medical Center, where he underwent a CT scan for bruising on his chest. He will be kept overnight for observation. No official word on the fans injured in the accident was available.

“You want to put on good races, but not at the risk of the drivers and the fans,” Stewart said. “It’s a hard thing for NASCAR. There’s no easy solution. Never has been. But NASCAR is an extremely smart group. They’re doing everything they can to keep this from happening. That’s the main thing.”

The victory was Stewart’s 19th overall triumph at Daytona. He is second on Daytona’s all-time win list, trailing only Earnhardt, who has 34 victories at Daytona and is a part of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2010.

The DRIVE4COPD 300 marked Stewart’s only Nationwide Series start for 2013. It was his seventh win in the kickoff race for the Nationwide Series in the last nine years, and his 11th career Nationwide Series victory.

Stewart won four straight DRIVE4COPD 300s between 2008 and 2011 – a feat he accomplished driving for three different team owners, winning with Joe Gibbs in 2008, Rick Hendrick in 2009 and Kevin Harvick in 2010 and 2011. (Stewart also won with Harvick in 2005 and 2006). Stewart’s win on Saturday brought the tally to four different team owners, as the victory came in a Richard Childress Racing-prepared Chevrolet Camaro. Stewart drove for the veteran team owner in last year’s DRIVE4COPD 300, where he led 22 laps before finishing seventh. Stewart also drove for Childress in the May 2004 Nationwide Series race in Fontana, Calif., where he finished second. 

Stewart’s Richard Childress Racing teammates – Brian Scott, driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro and Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro – finished sixth and 21st, respectively. 

With the last-lap crash, the race ended under caution. Crossing the stripe behind Stewart was Sam Hornish Jr., while Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top-five. Scott, Justin Allgaier, Eric McClure, Robert Richardson Jr. and Travis Pastrana comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were seven caution periods for 26 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the March 2 Dollar General 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race starts at 4:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by ESPN2 beginning with its pre-race show at 4 p.m. 

–SHR–