It’s difficult to believe that we’re constantly in a position in the sport where we have to reiterate certain things that should be obvious. Accidents happen. The loss of Dale Earnhardt on February 18, 2001 was an accident. The losses of Blaise Alexander, Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, and Adam Petty were all accidents. Carl Edwards being launched into the fence at Talladega in 2009 was an accident. Ryan Newman’s accident in Sunday’s Daytona 500? Also an accident.
I went into work tonight expecting some talk about Newman’s accident as I’m the lone racing guy on our staff. Sure enough, my coworkers were approaching me to talk about what they heard about Newman’s crash. Most were facts about Newman that come as obvious to those who follow racing and who have been following the news of the crash, but there were others who heard the same obnoxious nonsense from social media – that Ryan Blaney turned the No. 6 Ford while trying to win the 500.
Rarely has such news solicited such a groan-worthy reaction out of me. Just hearing that brings back memories of how obsurd things got for Sterling Marlin when Earnhardt died, how he received death threats and hate mail following the 2001 Daytona 500. I don’t understand – in the post-race shots on pit road, Blaney looks as distressed and upset as he could be without falling into absolute hysterics. Not the reaction expected of someone who had punted Newman into the wall.
What’s the logic here? Do people actually think that the drivers aren’t aware of the risks of malicious intent at 200 mph? Do people really think that Blaney is the type of driver that would punt a guy for a win? This sentiment ranks up there with the idiots (I use that word deliberately) who said Newman deserved his fate for being a Trump supporter or the people who tried to call attention to themselves by “knowing somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew Newman’s conditon.”
Racing brings out the comraderie in it’s fans regardless of political or religious leanings, but it brings out the less-than-savory folks too. Then, it brings out the people who tend to act without thinking – especially the folks who assumed that the bump from Blaney was some sort of ruthless, calculated smack designed to move Newman out of the way.
If anything, Blaney is the most mellow guy on the track – when he’s not racing for the win he’s usually hosting his podcast, making television and movie cameos, or tormenting William Byron for dating his little sister. He takes time for his fans and seems to be an all-around fun and respectful guy. In this instance he was going to try to push another driver who raced for Ford to the win after realizing he wasn’t going to win the race. That doesn’t come across as a guy who’d gleefully dump a guy a la Chick Hicks on the way to winning a Piston Cup.
The Daytona 500 is the Mecca of NASCAR. It’s the be-all-end-all for the sport. The drive to win it is bigger than winning a title for some. But if guys like Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Kyle Busch can lose the race gracefully again and again, then it just goes to show that there isn’t some inherent curse among the drivers that causes them to act out horrible urges in order to win this race. This isn’t the literal Holy Grail and they aren’t Indiana Jones.
When all is said and done, Blaney should be commended for a race well run. Denny Hamlin should be commended for winning his third 500. The NASCAR Safety R&D center should be commended for making durable equipment. The Safety Team should be commended for a swift and appropriate response to Newman’s aid. Even the NASCAR Media should be commended for keeping their mouths shut and their thumbs still until official word on Newman’s condition was released.
As for those who were quick to blame Blaney for “deliberately” turning Newman, to paraphrase the great 20th century poet Phife Dog, they can take that garbage to St. Elsewhere.