Nervous? No, Ryan Newman is excited

DORAL, FL - NOVEMBER 11: Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, answers questions from the media during the NASCAR Championship Press Conference at the Trump National Doral on November 12, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A couple of inches either way and he probably wouldn’t even be here.  Ryan Newman was swept up in a last lap crash at this years NASCAR Cup series season opening Daytona 500.  His Ford was sent airborne where it was hit by the car of Corey Lajoie.  The remains of the car came to rest upside down past the start-finish line.

For several agonizing hours the NASCAR world held its collective breath. In a sport where crashes are commonplace the sight of drivers climbing out of their mangled machines was a familiar one. But that didn’t happen that night.

Behind barriers Newman was carried off on a stretcher and rushed directly to the nearest hospital.  He was alive, but no one knew the seriousness of his injuries.  Just a few days later the whole world cheered as Newman walked out of that same hospital under his own power holding hands with his two young daughters.  Thursday Newman met with the media as he, and NASCAR, gets ready to return to racing this Sunday.

“I’m happy to see you all in the capacity that I can after everything that happened in Daytona,” Newman said.

“I feel very blessed and fortunate as I think you’ve read or heard me say several times to be able to talk to you guys and get the opportunity to return to my race car seat – not just any seat but my race car seat and Darlington of all places, being my favorite race track, so I look forward to getting down there on Sunday and having an expedited weekend, I guess you could say, and the opportunity to get sports back rolling again when it comes to NASCAR.”

As for how, and why he survived the horrific crash, even Newman isn’t sure.

“They always say things happen for a reason and this year was the year,” Newman said. “It’s only the fourth race I had on a brand-new style of helmet – it’s a carbon fiber zero helmet that I was wearing – the second time I’d worn it in Cup competition.  Everything aligned in so many ways.  The safety workers, the personnel that were involved, that were inside the car with me, spent time with me during and after the crash, every layer of it there was multiple miracles – big miracles and little miracles, in my opinion – that aligned for me to be able to walk out days later with my hands around my daughters and to be thankful, so I can’t answer all of those things and I don’t think anybody can when miracles do happen, but we need to be thankful for that – at least I am.”

Newman admitted that he wasn’t sure how serious his injuries were, in fact he wasn’t sure of anything in the days after the accident.

“I had no idea.  I was medically treated to not know.,” Newman said. “They were trying to keep me in a somewhat of a medically-induced coma from what I’ve been told, and that medicine kind of zoned me out, so I really don’t have any memories or recollection of any of my crash until I actually had my arms around my daughters walking out of the hospital.

“Again, when they give you those medicines and you’re knocked out, you don’t know what’s going on.  I was able to walk out in the condition that I was and as I watched in the next call it 24 hours, as I watched the crash and had to make myself believe what I had went through, I really looked to my dad to say, ‘Hey, did this really happen?’  Like it was kind of there’s no déjà vu when there’s no deja, it was just kind of like, ‘All right, I believe you.’  It’s crazy.  I’m happy I’m here.”

Newman said he remembers nothing from the crash.

“I don’t remember any part of the lights out in the crash,” he said.  “I really don’t know how much of that was the crash, the impact, part of whatever I had for an injury or just the medication that went along with it.  Again, I was kind of hung upside-down in the car.  I know that I was fighting the medical crew there for a little while and they kind of helped me out in more ways than one, but I really don’t have any recollection of the last lap and everything after that until I walked out of the hospital with my daughters.”

He was never aware of any sort of medical procedures while hospitalized, but in the end his injuries were nothing more than a bruised brain.

“I guess they put a pick line in my shoulder,” Newman said. “Which I’m not really sure exactly what all that was for, and medically I was just treated so that I could be calm so that they would kind of numb my brain, so to speak, so that I could just sit there and rest.  I wouldn’t call it a vegetative state, but I wasn’t a fruit either (laughing).  I was meant to be relaxed.”

Newman has been medically cleared and will start 21st Sunday.  He will have somewhat of an advantage. As part of his medical clearance Newman traveled to Darlington and ran laps, while all the other drivers were quarantining.  Newman said he had no reservations about getting back in a racecar and getting up to speed.

“We went down and did about 30 laps total at speed,” Newman said.  “We did two five-lap runs and then kind of checked the tires out and then put another set of tires on for a 20-lap run and wanted to see how I felt in the car.”

“I had no apprehensions getting in the car,” he added.  “I was excited to get in the car.  It’s my favorite racetrack and just really wanted to get back in it and at it.  I’ve been working really hard to do the things that I needed to do test-wise to pass my concussion test and protocol and things like that, so I could be down there with my team and Dr. Petty to establish the fact that I felt well and could prove it and I was well behind the seat of the race car, so I basically did that.

“The track was really green and was really fast.  My first five laps of my 20-lap run were quicker than the pole-winning car from last fall, so I can handle the speed.  There’s no issue with that, just wanted to kind of get that behind me and Darlington being kind of close to home and away from a little bit of everything else, for me, was no different than how Dale Jr. did it.  You take an opportunity to go down and shake things down and make sure that everything is connected.”

Don’t expect any sort of nervousness as Newman takes the green flag for the first time since that terrible night at Daytona when he nearly lost it all only to come out nearly unscathed and become a walking miracle.

“Yes, I am excited,” Newman said.  “I’m super-excited, not just for myself but for our sport.  I think our sport will hopefully lead by example of how to get the world, if not the United States, back on track and enjoy some of the things that we love and give people some of that normalcy back that we haven’t had for a couple months.”