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Fans injured after car flies into grandstand fencing at Daytona [update]

February 23, 2013|By Jim Peltz

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The race car of Californian Kyle Larson flew into the grandstand fencing Saturday in a multicar crash at the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, injuring 28 spectators.

Of the 28 who were injured, 14 were taken to local hospitals and the other 14 were treated at the track, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood told reporters Saturday night.

Details about the extent of the injuries were not immediately known.

The damaged fencing was expected to be repaired in time for Sunday’s Daytona 500, said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president for racing operations.

“There obviously was some intrusion into the fence and fortunately with the way the event's equipped up, there were plenty of emergency workers ready to go and they all jumped in on it pretty quickly,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said. “Right now, it's just a function of determining what all damage is done. They're moving folks, as we've seen, to care centers and taking some folks over to Halifax Medical.”

Race winner Tony Stewart had a muted celebration in Victory Lane, saying that as much as he wanted to celebrate, “I’m more worried about the drivers and the fans right now. We’ve always known since racing started that this is a dangerous sport.”

Brad Keselowski, the reigning champion in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series who also races in the second-tier Nationwide division, said he was pushing Regan Smith as they neared the finish line, and that Smith then tried to block him, triggering the crash.

“I really hope everyone in the grandstands is OK,” Keselowski said. “That’s the most important thing right now.”

The Nationwide race preceded the Cup series’ crown-jewel Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Safety workers rushed to the scene after the front of Larson's No. 32 Chevrolet was sheared off as the car tore into the fencing. The car's engine and one of the front tires came to rest at the base of the fence, with part of the car flying into the grandstand.

Larson, a 20-year-old from Elk Grove, Calif., driving in his first Nationwide Series race, was not injured. As he climbed out of his white car, half of the car was missing.

“I was getting pushed from behind, I felt like, and by the time my spotter said lift or go low, it was too late,”said Larson, who also voiced concern for the injured spectators. “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.”

The crash occurred as the field was racing to the checkered flag at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

Smith was leading Keselowski, but as they neared the finish line Smith suddenly veered to the right, setting off a chain-reaction wreck that caught Larson's car and several others, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The crash brought to mind the 1987 wreck involving Bobby Allison at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, in which his car went airborne and into the grandstand fence.

That accident prompted NASCAR to cap engine speeds at Talladega and Daytona in hopes of preventing another such incident.

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