DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.-- On the eve of Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, I asked standout driver Kurt Busch about the confluence of speed, safety measures and danger that is part of the thrill of NASCAR. Busch answered the question smartly, acknowledging the components of what makes auto racing so popular.
On Saturday afternoon, I witnessed first-hand that confluence of speed, safety measures and danger as Tony Stewart avoided a pileup and won the race an instant after huge parts of Kyle Larson's car flew into the catch fence and into the stands.
By my eyewitness account as I sat no more than 100 yards from the incident, it seems at least seven fans sustained injuries. A dozen ambulances made their way onto the service road alongside the Speedway. I saw a man being taken away in a back brace, a woman with a tourniquet on her leg, and a handful of people who appeared to have suffered burns by the freak accident.
Larson's car went out of control due to what appeared to be a multiple-car accident near the finish line. Regan Smith seemed to have the lead but his car was turned, possibly from contact from Brad Keselowski's car.
Debris from the crash especially from Larson's car was scattered toward the catchfence, into the stands, and maybe even into the second deck. To me, it appeared Larson's entire engine had wrapped itself into the fence. As Stewart quietly accepted congratulations for his victory, technical and medical personnel tended to Larson's car (which was sheared in half) and to Larson himself, who reportedly was evaluated and released.
NASCAR immediately tweeted a response from President Mike Helton, who said, "Our prayers and thoughts are with everybody (the responders) are working on."
Amid my enjoyment of the thrills of Daytona, I share in those thoughts and prayers.