DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — While the majority of the focus from Monday night’s finish to the 62nd annual Daytona 500 was on the health of Ryan Newman, he wasn’t the only driver at the center of the storm.
Corey LaJoie also took a major shunt during the frightening crash that ended The Great American Race, plowing into the driver’s side of Newman’s flipping race car as he steamed toward the finish line.
LaJoie was credited with an eighth-place finish, just ahead of Newman, who crossed the line ninth while upside down and showering sparks.
Newman was transported to Halifax Health Medical Center, where he remains as of Tuesday afternoon.
Roush Fenway Racing relayed Newman’s condition as “serious” in the team’s first update provided on Monday night, but with non-life-threatening injuries.
LaJoie, a third-generation racer, was checked and released from the infield medical center, where he quickly met with reporters and expressed extreme concern for Newman’s well-being.
“The narrative kind of changed a little bit (when) I heard he (Newman) went straight to the hospital,” LaJoie said. “That’s obviously scary. I got a big push there coming to the white (flag). I don’t know who was pushing me and I kind of stalled out and I don’t know who hooked Newman. I was hoping he would kind of bounce off the fence to the left, but he didn’t and I hit him. I don’t know exactly where I hit him. I haven’t seen a replay. It was some scary stuff.
“Don’t get me wrong; my car was on fire and my seat belts grabbed all sorts of areas, but it was a good day for us,” added LaJoie, who started the race in a backup car and also battled electrical issues before Monday afternoon’s resumption. “I just hope Ryan is OK.”
LaJoie recounted further details on Tuesday morning, joining ABC’s Good Morning America for a nationally televised interview.
He was quick to tell GMA co-host Michael Strahan he didn’t know anything further about Newman’s condition, again expressing well wishes for the 42-year-old’s health and impending road to recovery.
“(I know) nothing beyond what I’ve seen on social media. I don’t really have an inside source, per se, I just know the fact that he’s not life-threatened … he’s obviously in serious condition because that’s probably the worst possible spot (to take an impact) and the most vulnerable spot on our race cars, is that roof corner,” LaJoie noted on Good Morning America. “That was a really scary wreck and all our thoughts and prayers are with the Newmans and their family.”
LaJoie explained he didn’t even realize it was Newman’s car he collided with until after he was released from medical care and began to learn details about what had happened.
“It was wild, man. I didn’t even know who I hit (at the time),” LaJoie admitted. “You’re concentrating on trying to get a good finish and nobody realizes how fast 200 mph is, or how light and how uncontrollable these cars are when you get out of shape, so I didn’t even know who I hit or what the extent of the crash was until after I got out of the care center, when someone told me they took Ryan straight to the hospital.”
LaJoie’s immediate emotions mirrored those of the rest of the racing world.
“I was obviously nervous. I still haven’t seen the replay, beyond what was shown (on TV),” he continued. “It was obviously a very scary crash, but the fact that he’s still with us and can hopefully make a full recovery is a testament to the NASCAR R&D group and how safe they’re trying to make these race cars.”
Of important note is the fact that LaJoie’s father, two-time NASCAR Xfinity (then Busch) Series champion Randy LaJoie, has been an advocate for driver safety for many years.
Randy LaJoie started a nonprofit organization called The Safer Racer in 2007, with a mission of making safety innovations available and affordable for grassroots racers, and also manufactures racing seats through his business, The Joie of Seating.
SPEED SPORT will have continuing coverage of the aftermath of the 62nd Daytona 500 as more details become available.