DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With Saturday's horrific Nationwide Series crash providing the backdrop, Sunday's Daytona 500 was significantly impacted by wrecks of its own.
Tony Stewart, who won the Drive4COPD 300 after race leaders Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski wrecked coming to the checkered flag, was one of nine drivers to have his Daytona 500 hopes dashed by a crash on Lap 33. That wreck also claimed Kevin Harvick, who had won the Sprint Unlimited and his heat in the Budweiser Duels during Speedweeks at Daytona.
"The hell with the season [ahead]. I wanted to win the Daytona 500," said Stewart, who has won seven of the last nine season-opening Nationwide races at Daytona, but never the main event. "We had a car that we could pass with. We were just waiting for it to all get sorted out."
Stewart had been a very subdued winner on Saturday, realizing the gravity of the situation that unfolded in his rear view mirror. At least 28 fans were injured, most of them after rookie Ryan Larson's car was struck twice and launched into the catch fence near the start-finish line.
Two fans were hospitalized in critical condition as parts, including Larson's engine and at least two tires and wheels, landed on the grandstand side of the fencing. Halifax Health said seven remained hospitalized there last night, all in stable condition.
Crews worked frantically Saturday night to repair the damage at the track as NASCAR planned a thorough review of the incident, both from the perspective of the 22-foot high fence that protects the fans and Larson's car, parts of which were strewn into the upper deck.
"We have an R & D [Research and Development] center in Concord, N.C., that specializes in looking at things like this," Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR vice president of racing operations said, Sunday. "We'll look at every piece [of the car] -- what came off, what didn't. We'll review the film and where [Larson's car] hit [the fence]. Every aspect of that car will be looked at."
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood noted that the track's fencing had been replaced before the 2010 season after a 2009 incident at Talladega Superspeedway in which Carl Edwards was involved in a similar incident. "We brought in a structural engineering firm to review all of our safety fencing and actually took every recommendation," Chitwood said.
Daytona 500 competitors said they raced with a heavy heart.
"I had a sick feeling since I got up this morning," third-place finisher Mark Martin said. "That's something we cannot have happen. I am happy we were able to run today and not have a huge accident."
Big names, however, were knocked out by two major crashes. A third crash took place on the race's final lap but didn't impact the leaders or necessitate a caution flag.