Ryan Newman met with the media via teleconference Thursday and discussed his Daytona accident as well as this week’s return to racing:
RYAN NEWMAN, No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang – "I’m happy to see you all in the capacity that I can after everything that happened in Daytona. 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 YOU COME BACK WITH EVERYTHING BEING THROWN AT YOU, IS THERE A LOT MORE FOR YOU TO DIGEST? "I know it’s different and I guess it’s got some complexities to it, but, in the end, we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we were capable of it, so that’s a combination of everything. That’s a combination of going to the race track with no practice, no qualifying; the situation that we have with the virus and making sure that we’re staying healthy and keeping our distance; being socially acceptable in doing so. It’s all manageable, it’s just going to be different. But the reality is once we get the green flag to drop, aside from a mandatory caution, it’s gonna be racing and racing as the fans have always enjoyed it and hopefully we can set a standard that allows everybody, including the fans, to enjoy the race and have fun."
JACK SAID YOU WERE GOING TO BE LIKE A 16-YEAR-OLD THAT JUST GOT HIS DRIVER’S LICENSE. IS THAT TRUE? "I’m like that every day."
WHAT HAPPENED INSIDE THE CAR TO ALLOW YOU TO SURVIVE? "I think you can pay a lot of attribution to the safety of the race car, the safety of my helmet, my equipment. They always say things happen for a reason and this year was the year. 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 – and I’m just proud of how everybody has united in the past say 20 years that I’ve been involved in this sport to make the tracks safer, the walls safer, the cockpit safer, the seat safer – all the work that has gone into that collectively, not just the NASCAR world, but everybody. People in sprint car racing, people in IndyCar racing – I am the net result or at least I feel like I am. It’s not just a Newman bar, it’s not just a Petty bar or an Earnhardt bar, it’s the net effort of everybody in auto racing that, I think, contributed up to that day."
FROM A MEDICAL STANDPOINT DO YOU KNOW HOW TOUCH AND GO IT WAS THAT YOU WOULD LIVE? "I had no idea. I was medically treated to not know. 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."
DID YOU ASK? DID THEY DO ANY MEDICAL PROCEDURES BESIDES A MEDICALLY-INDUCED COMA? "No, I had nothing that was wrong with me. I guess they put a pick line in my shoulder, 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."
WHAT WAS YOUR DARLINGTON TEST LIKE WHEN YOU WENT THERE? "We went down and did about 30 laps total at speed. 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. I was excited to get in the car. It’s my favorite race track 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."
IN WHAT WAYS MIGHT RELATIONSHIPS WITH COMPETITORS CHANGED, AND WILL THOSE RELATIONSHIP IMPACT HOW YOU MIGHT RACE OTHERS ONE WAY OR THE OTHER? "I guess I brought Matt Kenseth out of retirement. He’s so excited to race against me he decided to come back and race again. In all actuality, I’m just really excited to get back at it. I got lots of great texts and phone calls and connections from other drivers and other crew members and personnel that are from the race track and even away from the race track. The amount of texts and communication that I got, it’s not a joking matter, but it’s like being at somebody’s wake, but you live through it. It’s like being there, but your being that person and being able to connect with the people that wanted to connect with you. When you go to a wake and you can’t typically connect with that person, you can only connect with the family. I felt like that, and I look forward to getting back on the race track and kind of putting it all behind me, but at the same time, like I said, to be thankful for what I’ve experienced."
WHAT CHALLENGES DO RACING WITH NO PRACTICE OR QUALIFYING PRESENT? "It’s the same thing that we do when we get there. We unload and we try to go fast our first laps of practice. The difference is these laps or practice are actually race laps and they mean something and over 400 miles they add up. I don’t see it as a huge challenge. It is definitely going to be a challenge. You don’t want to be the first guy to be smashing your splitter going into turn one at Darlington when you’re gonna enter the corner with somebody outside of you. You just don’t know those things, so you just have to think about it, no different than you would if you were in practice. When you enter right next to the wall, let’s just say at a place like Homestead, you enter right next to the wall you don’t do it on your first lap, but you will at some point and you have to make sure you have the confidence. You have to work your way into that level of confidence and we’ll have plenty of laps in Darlington to do that on Sunday."
YOU SAID YOU HAD A BRUISED BRAIN, BUT WHAT WAS THE OFFICIAL DIAGNOSIS? "I can self-diagnose myself, right? There was a little bit of confusion. I’ve had doctors tell me that I had a concussion and then I’ve talked to other doctors that said I didn’t have a concussion, then I went back and talked to the same doctor that said I had a concussion and he says, ‘No, you didn’t really have a concussion, what you had was this.’ That’s why I kind of put it in layman’s terms of having a bruised brain because everybody knows what a bruise is. You can’t see a concussion. It’s just a medical diagnosis, but a bruise you can see and the part of your brain or the fact that my brain was injured, I guess, in this accident to the point that it knocked me out and I don’t remember the actual parts of the accident that day, tells me that something happened. So I kind of self-diagnosed myself with that bruised brain because the reality is you need to give time for a bruise to heal and that’s what I needed was time for my brain to heal. I’ve really felt completely normal since, I guess in the last eight weeks no problem, no question. That doesn’t mean that I was and that’s why when it comes time to having a bruise heal, especially one you can’t see, you have to be extra careful."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THOSE FINAL MOMENTS? "I think that’s the part, for me, that makes me feel how special it really was – the miracle part of it – because I don’t remember anything about being in the hospital. I couldn’t tell you who came to visit me. I couldn’t tell you who was in the room, but I do remember putting my arms around my daughter’s chests and walking out and holding their hands as I did that, and that tells me that God was involved. That tells me that I was blessed in more ways than one, and makes me so thankful for what I went through and being able to have the people around me that I love and trust afterwards. I don’t even know how to describe it more than that. I feel like a complete walking miracle."
WHEN YOU DID THE TEST AT DARLINGTON WAS THERE ANY NERVOUSNESS, AND HAS DOING THAT TEST EASED YOUR NERVES COMING BACK TO RACING? "I actually felt just the opposite. I was so excited and ready to go and just kind of prove myself that I actually had to slow myself down and make sure that I didn’t go out there and fence it on the first lap by trying too hard. So I never felt like I had to be apprehensive towards it, other than the fact that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t mess up my own test. I was there to prove that I was valid in the seat again, and that made it a bit of a challenge for me personally because it is my favorite race track and when the track is green like that you just want to go haul the mail, and I had to slow myself down for a few laps, like I said, and everything was good. It’ll be a little bit of that again when we go back on Sunday, but I’ll have 39 other cars around me and somebody to kind of gauge off of, too."
DO YOU EXPECT TO RUN EVERY LAP? NO BACKUP? "I’m hoping to do every lap and then one more after that. I think they are having a victory lap still. I was ready to do that in Daytona."
WHEN THE CRASH STARTED DID YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC THOUGHT, AND HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO GET BACK AND BE ONE OF THE FIRST SPORTS TO START AGAIN? "I don’t remember any part of the lights out in the crash. 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. Yes, I am excited. 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."
HAVE YOU WATCHED THE ENTIRE DAYTONA RACE? IS THERE A LEVEL OF DISAPPOINTMENT WITH HOW IT ENDED? "I have not watched the entire race. I’ve actually kind of been saving that for a moment that will be a little bit later in time here because I don’t remember the majority of the race. I am still disappointed in the fact that I have seen the replays and know that I was that close to a second Daytona 500 victory, but that’s just the way it works. I’ve always said in this sport when you win a race one way, you will eventually lose a race that way, and I lost a race that way, so hopefully some day I can win a race that way. It’s kind of like the what comes around goes around and everything has a cycle, I’ve experienced that with rain-shortened races and winning them and losing them, so to speak, and I think that’s just a part of what racing is."
WHY IS DARLINGTON YOUR FAVORITE TRACK? "I just like it because you run right up next to the fence. It’s unique on both ends, very challenging. It’s just a lot of fun to actually hustle the car around there."
THERE WAS SOME TALK ABOUT RULE CHANGES AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA. HOW MUCH INPUT DID YOU HAVE TO THOSE CHANGES AND ARE THERE ANY OTHER SUGGESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE? "If you’ve been a part of our sport for the last 10 years you know that I’ve been a big advocate for keeping the race cars on the ground. I would love to take all the credit, but I don’t deserve all the credit when it comes to things from the past like the Newman bar. That was NASCAR’s development over a crash that I had, I believe it was in Talladega in 2009, ’10 or ’11 – something like that – when I flipped and landed upside-down and my cage crushed a significant amount. They realized that they needed to make an improvement and they made it and they called it the Newman bar. I was literally just the crash test dummy that lived through it, but I also did have some input, and I’ve had some input post 2020 Daytona 500 – not a lot, but, again, they have talked to me about some things, they’ve worked with the team at Roush Fenway Racing to help devise some new things with the race car – big things like chassis structure, little things like window net safety – commonizing some things to make them safer for everybody. We’ve always had a degree of freedom with certain things on the race car, but when it comes to safety NASCAR has made us realize that there is a standard that needs to be followed and that’s just an example of one of the things that we learned from my Daytona crash was my window net was secured, but it was not secured correctly to the point that it was still latched, but it was not ready for the next shot, so to speak. Things like that, that have been a part of what we have done post-Daytona 500 that will continue on to make NASCAR safer and hopefully other sports safer for the same reason."
DOES IT MEAN MORE TO YOU TO HONOR FIRST RESPONDERS THIS WEEKEND AFTER WHAT THEY DID FOR YOU, AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR NASCAR TO TAKE CENTER STAGE THIS WEEKEND? "I definitely learned a different perspective for first responders, but I’ve learned a different perspective for lots of people. As a parent, and this is not to take away from first responders, but as a parent who is trying to teach a second and third-grader with all this stuff going on that I’ve learned a great appreciation for teachers as well. I’m just proud to be in this position that I am and be able to give thanks to the people that in so many ways help us, not just this weekend with the first responders that go along with the virus and the pandemic that’s been a part of our world, but obviously as we get to Memorial Day Weekend with the soldiers that we pay tribute to – past, present and future – that give us the freedom in our country. So several different layers of faithfulness and thankfulness that NASCAR has always been proud to represent and a standard of leading a lot of those things compared to other sports. I look forward to having some names outside of mine on my race car in multiple ways and multiple times as we pay tribute to many people who make a difference in our world."
HOW GREAT IS IT FOR NASCAR TO BE FRONT AND CENTER RIGHT NOW? "I think that it’s great the way the industry, the way the people, the teams, the sponsors, the broadcasting partners, the sanctioning body has all grouped together to make this their play, so to speak. Sunday at Darlington is going to be a huge opportunity for us to connect to millions of people in ways that maybe we haven’t had since 1979 when we had a snowstorm on the east coast. I think it’s just a big opportunity and we’re all gonna work really hard to make the best of it just as we do each and every day, but this is a unique opportunity for us to shine and, for me personally, to get back on the horse at the same time."
DARLINGTON IS NOW THE EPICENTER OF NASCAR. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? "I think it’s a great opportunity for Darlington, for the fans. We knew it was kind of close to home and, like I said, it is one of my favorite race tracks, if not my favorite race track. I’ve always equated my favorite all-time race track, Winchester Speedway, to Darlington being the closest thing to Darlington in the Cup Series. I have liked it for many reasons, as you said as well, the history of our sport. There was a point in time where we decided to step away from Darlington and this is an opportunity to kind of come back and give it another shot in a different way, but all for the right reasons."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE WITHOUT FANS? "When you’re running 200 miles an hour you can’t look in the stands anyway. I am aware of the current situation and I feel bad for the fans that they can’t be there, but from a driver’s perspective, until you’re doing burnouts or donuts in victory lane, you don’t have – or at least I don’t have – a mentality or picture of fans or no fans in the grandstands. I wish that they were there. I completely do. That’s a topic all in itself, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for us to connect to the people that are doing the right thing of being socially distant, staying at home and watching the race on TV and I’m sure that the broadcast partners are all teed up and ready to do the best job that they can to make sure that they give the best broadcast that they possibly can to those fans."
YOU HAVE A LOT OF DIFFERENT HOBBIES AND RESPONSBILITIES. CAN YOU DISTILL WHAT IS SO COMPELLING ABOUT BEING BEHIND THE WHEEL THAT YOU HAVE TO BE THERE ON SUNDAY? "I’ve got a list of opportunities outside of racing and I’m happy that I’ve been able to spend some time with my daughters. For anybody like you that has paid attention, we’re getting really close on the Bill Elliott model I was working on a month-and-a-half ago, so hopefully we can get that all done before Darlington as well. But, yeah, I enjoy the outdoor life. I enjoy farming. I enjoy the cows, the buffalo. Last year we had three buffalo calves, so that keeps me busy just keeping an eye on them and making sure they stay inside the fence, but I really just enjoy racing. I’ve been a race fan all my life. My dad got me started racing quarter midgets when I was four-and-a-half and if you can remember before you were four-and-a-half you’re a unique person, so I’m excited about getting back behind the wheel. I have a goal in my life to be a Cup champion and I feel like I’m with a team and have the opportunity to do that. We were really close to proving it and securing ourselves a playoff berth in Daytona, and we have plenty more opportunities to do that before those last 10 races this year, so I’m still riding that wave from the last 20 years, I guess, is the real answer and when that wave hits the beach I’ll figure out what I’m gonna do next."
DID YOU PICK WHERE YOU DID YOUR TEST, AND WHEN YOU WERE HEALING WERE THERE SPECIAL THERAPIES OR EXERCISES YOU NEEDED TO DO? "I think there was a collective effort, mostly NASCAR, to choose Darlington. I think it was a part of what they had done in the past. Dale Jr, I believe to my knowledge, spent some time down there after his situation a few years ago, so it’s geographically close and gave us an opportunity to kind of step away and do what we needed to do, so it worked out. It was really just time to heal. Going back to the bruise part of my self-assessed situation and condition. I felt great. I acted great. I had no balance problems, no memory problems. I just needed to give it some time to really know that it was healed, at least healed to the best that it could be, and that’s one of the things I’ve suggested, and maybe this isn’t the correct place to talk about it, but just some of the protocols and things that we can do after me living through and experiencing this, what we can do to be more prepared for all race car drivers prior to a race or a season or a career to know what you’re capability is mentally as a person. We all know that changes every day. Some days you’re having good days. Some days you’re having bad days. Some days you can hit nine out of 10 free throws and some days you can’t hit but one, but the reality is there is a baseline that’s out there that we all need to have a really good understanding of and that has an effect on the status of an athlete. I think it’s something we definitely can make smoother as we go forward for everybody."
DID COREY’S CAR HIT YOUR HELMET AND DO YOU ASSUME THAT’S WHEN THE BRAIN INJURY HAPPENED? "I don’t have anything that is conclusive that says that his car hit my helmet. I do know that parts of the inside of my car hit my helmet and crushed it, so to speak. I don’t have any defined video that I can give you 100 percent answer that says this is exactly the second that this happened, but I see the end result and that my helmet did have contact and my HANS did have contact, and I was being moved backwards in my seat as his car was moving me forward, so I can’t honestly tell you what percentage of that inertia and those physics that went into the actual action of the crash were being driven by his car hitting me or his car hitting my roll bars. It’s not a fair assessment to say, but everything happened really quick and everything was all in that compartment, basically, and I guess it would be like a case of high-quality whiplash that kind of happened when I was hit."
IS THERE ANY ONE THING IN THE CAR OR THE MEDICAL PERSONNEL DID ON SITE THAT SAVED YOUR LIFE? "I don’t know. I’ve had a brief conversation in Phoenix with a couple of people that were in the car – one that I believe was in the car with me and we talked about having a conversation later and haven’t had that conversation yet. I’m sure that we will, but I do believe that everybody had some kind of impact on keeping me safe. One of my biggest questions in talking with some of the doctors when they were looking at my brain scans was if they can tell that I was without oxygen for any amount of time, and they said based off my scans that it looked like I had no signs of lack of oxygen to my brain, which was a great piece of news and feedback, but, again, I couldn’t tell you if that was because of what they did inside the car, if it was because of how I was hit or the quality of the safety equipment or what. I don’t have all those answers and I don’t think that they’ll ever exist, unless you’re that person and can say, ‘Yes, I got the piece of ice out of the straw and now he can breathe.’ Unless that comment is there, which I don’t know of, then it was just some crazy actions."
NINE DAYS AFTER THE INCIDENT YOU WERE AT THE SHOP. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SEE THOSE GUYS AGAIN? "It was unique because I had never been to a race shop in that capacity. I literally had just came up from Florida I believe a couple days beforehand and my parents were still kind of chaperoning me, which, at the age of 42 was a unique situation in itself to not be allowed to drive and not have the freedoms a typical 42-year-old man with seven and nine-year-old daughters would have. So I felt blessed to be able to talk to those guys, give them thanks for building me a safe race car, and at the same time tell them I was ready to get back in it and looking forward to it when that time allowed. Everything changed in the couple weeks after that because we didn’t get to go to Atlanta and didn’t get to race, and the world has changed quite a bit, but the reality is it’s gonna reboot itself on Sunday."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CHARLOTTE? "I want to get through Darlington first. I don’t think that’s a bad question, I just haven’t really focused on Charlotte. I want to get through Darlington twice and learn what we need to do with our race cars. I do feel that Darlington and Charlotte are somewhat sister race tracks in which you can apply some similar thoughts and processes there because they do have a lot of bumps and content to make the cars handle well, so I think that I really haven’t personally focused on Charlotte until we get some laps under out belt after Sunday in Darlington, and after Sunday in Darlington we’ll think about Wednesday in Darlington and how that could tie in to Charlotte. That’s just my personal focus as of right now."
HOW ABOUT TWO RACES IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME? "I’ve done several races in several days in a row before, that’s no big deal. I feel like the way the schedule is set, doing the one-day shows, you wouldn’t be doing something that we physically weren’t capable of or asked upon us by everybody that’s involved, and that’s from driving the race car to the hauler drivers and the pit crews and everybody involved. So I think that’s not a big deal. It’s not an easy ask, but I don’t think that’s insurmountable."
— Ford Performance —