Denny Hamlin didn’t know the severity of Ryan Newman’s last-lap crash when he began celebrating his second consecutive Daytona 500 victory. The No. 11 Toyota driver did a burnout on the grass near the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway and continued his celebration with his team in Victory Lane.
But as soon as they learned Newman — whose car spun, hit the wall before being slammed into by Corey LaJoie, went airborne and slid off the track upside down — might not be OK, they stopped celebrating and team owner Joe Gibbs immediately apologized. Gibbs later apologized again as he, Hamlin and spotter Chris Lambert explained they didn’t realize what was happening.
Newman was taken to a nearby Daytona Beach hospital and was released Wednesday, less than 48 hours after the crash.
Despite the No. 11 team’s explanation, NASCAR fans on Twitter relentlessly criticized Hamlin and the team after the crash for celebrating their win, which Dale Earnhardt Jr. described as “overly critical” with Twitter being “all over the dang place.”
Here is the final lap of the Daytona 500 in which Ryan Newman’s car was flipped at the line.
We will continue to keep you updated on his status as we learn more. pic.twitter.com/qkEwQBpoP0
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 18, 2020
First a foremost I want to give well wishes and prayers to @RyanJNewman. I had absolutely NO IDEA of the severity of the crash until I got to victory lane. There’s very little communication after the finish and i had already unhooked my radio. It’s not anyone’s fault. 🙏Rocket
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 18, 2020
On his weekly podcast, the Dale Jr. Download, Earnhardt defended the team’s immediate actions, again noting its apology. He also compared the aftermath to that of the 2001 Daytona 500, when his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was tragically killed on the last lap of the race as Michael Waltrip won the first race of his career.
Dale Jr. explained:
“Denny goes and celebrates his win, and he caught a lot of flack for that. And I didn’t feel like that was deserving. I appreciate Joe Gibbs issuing an apology, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. But in this day and time, it certainly is for people get triggered so easily.
“But if people think back [to] Dad’s accident in 2001, Michael celebrated. He was in Victory Lane with his entire team celebrating — the team owned by my dad — before they finally were getting the right information. And no one ever in that moment went, ‘Oh, how dare Michael be celebrating until we figure out what’s going on with Earnhardt?’ So it’s a different time, and people react differently to those type of situations. I think they’re being overly critical of Denny and his team.
“It’s unfortunate that someone in that camp did not get to Denny quicker and tell him to pause and hold on his celebration. It didn’t happen, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s not anyone was right or wrong. It’s just how it played out. And we’ve seen it happen before and we’ve been much less critical in other situations that were extremely similar.”
Earnhardt and podcast co-host Mike Davis also brought up the 2015 summer race at Daytona. Junior won as Austin Dillon was involved in a huge wreck with his No. 3 Chevrolet ending up in the catchfence.
Comparing that situation to the one Hamlin was in Monday night, Earnhardt said he most likely would have been celebrating his win if he hadn’t seen Dillon’s wreck unfold behind him.
“If I had no idea that the 3 car went into the grandstands, I definitely probably would have been celebrating. But I happened to, just at that moment, catch a glimpse of what I thought was the bottom of the car, so in my mind, I’m assuming that the roof of that car had went into the fence, which is a terrible scenario.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad things in racing, and I’ve seen more than one death at a race track. I’ve been at race tracks where people have lost their lives and multiple times. So I feel like Denny, he won the race. He obviously did not see the severity of the crash in the mirror. He did not understand — how could he know that Corey LaJoie made contact with Newman’s car the way it did? None of us would have known, had we not seeing it on TV with the replays and so forth, right? We all had much more, much, much more information than Denny ever had. That’s all I think needs to be said about that.”
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