AVONDALE, Ariz.—For the first time since his horrific crash at Daytona International Speedway, Ryan Newman has returned to the track.
The 42-year-old driver, who has not been cleared to race, was at Phoenix Raceway to offer support to the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team, substitute driver Ross Chastain and the organization.
When asked how he was feeling, Newman didn’t hesitate. “Lucky,” he replied.
“It’s great to be alive,” Newman added. “If you’re looking at my car, it’s a miracle.”
Newman was involved in a multi-car wreck while battling for the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on February 17. He was immediately transferred to Halifax Medical Center where he remained for two nights. Newman miraculously left the hospital with his daughters in tow on February 19.
On Friday, Newman said he had no timetable as to when he might return to the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Chastain has been in the seat since Newman’s accident.
“I have no idea,” Newman said. “I feel fine. I’m here just spectating. Just having fun. I’m really just here to support the 6 team. Stay integrated with what I can do with the team. Have some fun, obviously. That’s really what it’s all about. I want to see Ross do well, but I’d rather be in Ross’s seat.
“I just want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can for our sponsors and for myself to have a good weekend.”
Newman is in his 20th season on the NASCAR Cup tour. He has 18 career wins and leads all other active drivers with 51 poles. Newman joined Roush last season in the flagship No. 6 Ford.
“I get a chance now to watch not just the 6 but the 17 and how they work and the teamwork that goes into that,” Newman said. “That’s equally as important to me to have an opportunity to see them and watch them perform when I’m not in the race car. I feel like I should be able to take advantage of this crazy opportunity.”
Newman attended a Ford Performance team-building outing at the Arizona State Football Stadium on Thursday night. Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie, both who were involved in the Daytona wreck, were grateful and surprised to see Newman in Phoenix.
“We were all sitting around having dinner and no one knew Ryan was coming,” LaJoie said. “My back was to the door—and to anyone who was walking in. All of a sudden, I feel this big, burly arm wrap around my neck and hear, ‘What are you doing ol’ boy?’ And I turned around and like, ‘Oh (crap), man!’
“I gave him a big hug and we talked for a couple of minutes. Everyone wanted to pick his brain about where he’s at, how he’s feeling and also the condition and the safety of the cars. Obviously, he’s a very smart guy. He possibly knows how to prevent something like that from happening again.
“But it was great to see him. It probably made me a little more emotional to see him just because you see pictures. You see that he’s doing well, but to physically give that big, burly guy a hug for us from going from assuming the worst on Monday night at Daytona to be able to chop it up with him at dinner Thursday night, is a blessing."
Although Blaney had spoken to Newman by phone, it couldn't compare to seeing him in person.
"That was great," Blaney said. "That was the first time I have seen Ryan personally. I think the first time a lot of us had seen Ryan. That was really cool to see. We sat and talked, the whole Ford group, for an hour, hour-and-a-half once he got there. We talked about a lot of stuff. It was nice to see him. He is full Ryan Newman caliber and it is great to see.
"It was cool to hear some of the process that he went through and some of the doctors that worked on him. They were very extensive with him and he has been passing everything with flying colors which is unheard of and great to hear. It was nice to see him and sit down and talk to him a lot about multiple things from how the process of what happened to where we can go in the future to keep improving the safety aspects of these things. There was a lot of insight going on and a lot of conversation around that table of some things we should talk about and things like that.”