Smoke Wins as Last Lap Disaster Strikes

Photo- Getty Images
Photo- Getty Images

In the most eventful season opener in NASCAR Nationwide Series history, Tony Stewart won the race while the rest of the field wrecked including Kyle Larson who flew into the catch fence and destroyed his car. Among all that carnage, 28 fans in total were injured due to Larson’s car flying into the catch fence and scattering debris everywhere. The race was going normally until this last lap incident occurred and this race will forever be remembered as one of the scariest in NASCAR history.

As all of our thoughts and prayers are with the injured race fans along with their families and friends, I will try to recap the Drive4COPD 300 as best as I can. With the two-car tandem is full-play for the Nationwide Series, many lead changes occurred throughout the race. The first one was on lap four when Kyle Busch got around pole-sitter Trevor Bayne. Not long after that, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick exchanged the lead a few more times. The first caution of the day came out when Scott Lagasse Jr. got hit from behind by Bayne and Lagasse spun through the grass on the turn one end of the tri-oval.

The lead exchanges continued throughout the next portion of the race. Notable drivers who took the lead before the second caution include Elliot Sadler, Brian Vickers and Brad Keselowski. The second yellow-flag of the day came out on lap 31 when Regan Smith spun out of turn four. Juan Carlos Blum was also involved in the caution because he spun like Regan did but, Blum hit the inside wall just before pit entrance. Smith was able to continue on in the race, however, Blum, was not. Under the same caution, Danica Patrick had engine issues and she had to bring her No.34 car behind the wall. She did not return to the track during the race.

The third caution of the day came out when four cars wrecked and spun through the tri-oval grass. Mike Wallace got turned by Michael Annett after Wallace came down on Annett and they both spun through the grass. They also took Joe Nemechek with them since he was running underneath the two when the incident occurred. Kurt Busch was involved too and he had to end his day because of the damage he received. Lead changes keep occurring during this period of the race and most notably, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to claim the lead on lap 72. Another caution came out on lap 84 when Trevor Bayne’s engine expired while Bayne was running fourth. Another blown engine victim was Kyle Busch when he brought out the caution for his engine with twenty-one laps to go.

The inevitable “big one” occurred with five laps to go. Twelve cars in total were involved in the wreck. The incident started when Michael Annett got into Austin Dillon in turn two and they both went up into the outside wall. Multiple other cars piled-in to them and the cars trying to avoid the wreck at the bottom of the track got collected when the wrecked cars slid down the banking. Other drivers involved in the wreck include Kasey Kahne, Jamie Dick, Johanna Long, Mike Bliss, Jason White, Danny Efland, Hal Martin, Jeffery Earnhardt and Elliot Sadler. The red flag was displayed following the incident while track workers cleaned up the track.

Following the wreck, Michael Annett was taken to Halifax Medical Center located in Daytona Beach for further observation. Annett had apparently suffered bruising on his chest and the hospital will be keeping him overnight for further observation.

Once the red flag was lifted, the cars were let loose to complete the final two laps of the race. As the drivers raced each other for position, a lot of contact was initiated but, the drivers made it to the final corner without wrecking.

As the cars headed for the finish line, Regan Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski but, Keselowski made contact with Smith, sending Smith hard into the outside wall. Keselowski then got hit from behind by Sam Hornish Jr and Keselowski spun up track. Meanwhile, Tony Stewart sneaked his way through the grass to take the win as the rest of the field wrecked. Kyle Larson got hit from behind and piled into the cars above on the track. When Brian Scott came blindly into the wreck, he hit Larson from behind and that lifted Larson up into the catch fence. Larson tore the catch fence apart before his car landed back on the track.

Larson had torn his whole front end off (including his motor) when he flew into the catch fence. Larson only had half a car left because his engine sat on the grandstand side of the catch fence and one of his tires flew into the crowd. Larson exited his car and was alright but, the fans were not. 28 fans in total suffered injuries from flying debris. 14 fans were treated at the infield care center while the other 14 fans were taken off the track grounds and to local hospitals. Two fans were in critical condition including a minor but, all fans were stable. As we progress into the week, more information should come available on the fans condition.

The rest of the wrecked field slid through the grass until all the carnage came to a rest at the exit of the tri-oval. In total, 13 cars were involved in the wreck. Other drivers that I didn’t mention before who were involved include Elliot Sadler, Eric McClure, Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Alex Bowman, Robert Richardson Jr. and Travis Pastrana. This wreck took out the remaining cars in the race except for the only car I saw that was undamaged which was the winner’s car, Tony Stewart.

A very sad-toned round of post-race interviews occurred following the race where drivers attempted to tell what they saw during the wreck. All drivers mentioned that their thoughts and prayers are with the injured fans. Tony Stewart tied Dale Earnhardt today for the most Nationwide Series wins at Daytona with seven. A celebration was non-existent in victory lane since everyone was frightened by the last lap crash. Stewart did all he needed to do in victory lane and then exited on a sad-note.

Stewart won today’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona but, the last lap accident will always be what this race is remembered by. All fans left Daytona International Speedway Saturday afternoon with heavy hearts for the injured fans. Stories of heroic fans will emerge from this day and that will take some of the sadness out of this day. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured fans and they will be in our hearts as we go ahead with the Daytona 500 tomorrow.

Video of the last lap wreck- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnHRCeUcDL4&list=UUuN9hYw2RpoAW8rZ3VK3isA&index=1

Results via Nascar.com

1. (10) Tony Stewart(i), Chevrolet, 120, $109220.
2. (2) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 120, $99378.
3. (8) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 120, $85603.
4. (13) Dale Earnhardt Jr.(i), Chevrolet, 120, $68635.
5. (3) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 120, $69838.
6. (29) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 120, $64013.
7. (14) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 120, $61713.
8. (28) Eric McClure, Toyota, 120, $60638.
9. (30) Robert Richardson Jr., Chevrolet, 120, $59388.
10. (4) Travis Pastrana, Ford, 120, $59713.
11. (17) Nelson Piquet Jr. #, Chevrolet, 120, $57338.
12. (11) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 120, $50495.
13. (21) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 120, $56488.
14. (15) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 120, $51995.
15. (6) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 120, $57538.
16. (9) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 120, $51095.
17. (27) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 120, $55413.
18. (33) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 120, $55188.
19. (20) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 118, $48595.
20. (19) Kasey Kahne(i), Chevrolet, 118, $49145.
21. (5) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 117, $54813.
22. (31) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, Accident, 116, $55088.
23. (26) Mike Bliss, Toyota, Accident, 116, $54513.
24. (35) Jason White, Toyota, Accident, 116, $54388.
25. (38) Danny Efland, Chevrolet, Accident, 116, $54713.
26. (22) Michael Annett, Ford, Accident, 115, $54113.
27. (25) Johanna Long, Chevrolet, Accident, 115, $54013.
28. (32) Hal Martin #, Toyota, Accident, 115, $53913.
29. (18) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, Accident, 115, $47345.
30. (39) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 102, $53988.
31. (1) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 101, $57413.
32. (7) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, Engine, 100, $46970.
33. (37) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, Oil Line, 88, $53388.
34. (23) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 87, $53338.
35. (40) Kurt Busch(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 65, $46702.
36. (12) Danica Patrick(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 31, $42185.
37. (36) Juan Carlos Blum #, Ford, Accident, 30, $42120.
38. (34) Blake Koch, Toyota, Overheating, 14, $42059.
39. (24) Scott Lagasse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 7, $40960.
40. (16) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 4, $40910.

By Jason Schultz

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