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Spectator injuries mar build-up to Daytona

Date
Carnage … Kyle Larson's Chevrolet ploughed into the fence, injuring spectators.

Carnage … Kyle Larson's Chevrolet ploughed into the fence, injuring spectators. Photo: Getty Images

Daytona Beach: As many as 28 people were injured in a crash at the end of a NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday afternoon, bringing the issue of safety at racetracks back to the forefront in NASCAR on the eve of Sunday's season-opening showcase, the Daytona 500.

Byron Cogdell, a spokesman at Halifax Medical Centre, said seven people were being treated there for injuries, two in critical condition. All seven were stable, he said. Cogdell also said Halifax's Port Orange centre was treating six more of the injured, who were also stable.

The Daytona speedway president, Joie Chitwood, said 14 people were taken to various hospitals and another 14 were treated at an infield care centre at the track. The injuries occurred after a 12-car crash as the field approached the chequered flag in a race won by Tony Stewart. The No.32 car driven by rookie Kyle Larson went airborne in the wreck and hit the catch-fence that surrounds the track and is designed to protect fans. The entire front end of Larson's race car was sheared off and debris from the car was sprayed into the stands, including two tyres. The engine wound up in a hole in the catch-fence.

Aftermath ... rescue workers attend to the injured in the stands following a last-lap incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Aftermath ... rescue workers attend to the injured in the stands following a last-lap incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Photo: Reuters

''First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,'' Chitwood said. ''On the incident, we responded appropriately according to our protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately. We're in the process of preparing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow.''

There were no injuries among the 12 drivers involved in the crash, including stars Dale Earnhardt jnr and Brad Keselowski, last year's Sprint Cup champion. All were examined at the infield centre and released.

The crash came as NASCAR was primed for its most anticipated season-opening Daytona 500 in years - Danica Patrick is set to become the first woman to start a Sprint Cup race from the pole position and a fleet of new race cars make their debut.

''We're really early in what we've seen,'' Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice-president for racing operations, said in a media conference at the speedway on Saturday night. ''Some of the things we have in place, tethers, that sort of thing, held up, did their job. But certainly when you look at this incident, there are some things we can learn and evaluate.''

NASCAR's senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Steve Phelps, said NASCAR moved to block images of the crash and victims in the stands posted on YouTube.

Saturday's accident occurred at the front of the pack as they rounded turn four and headed towards the finish line. Regan Smith, driving the No.7 car, was leading and was being pushed by Keselowski. As they approached the end, Keselowski attempted to pass Smith, but Smith blocked him from trying to get to the outside. That led to the crash that collected 12 cars in all. Larson was hit by several cars when his car went into the air.

''I was getting pushed from behind, I felt like, and by the time my spotter said lift or go low, it was too late,'' Larson said. ''I was in the wreck and then felt like it was slowing down and I looked like I could see the ground. Had some flames come in the cockpit, but luckily I was all right and could get out of the car quick.''

As for the cause of the crash, Smith took the blame, saying: ''I tried to throw a block coming off of [turn] four. I knew Brad was going to go make a move. It's Daytona, you want to go for the win here.''

Keselowski was going for the win, too. ''We made a move to try and win the race,'' he said. ''I kind of had the run and the move to win the race and Regan obviously tried to block it, and that's understandable. He wants to win, too, and at the end it just caused chaos. There was obviously a big wreck with a lot of debris and cars torn up. I really hope everyone in the grandstands is OK. I think that's the most important thing right now.''

AP

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