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Kyle Larson had no inclination that something was wrong in the stands at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday until he looked through the window of the ambulance carrying him to the infield care center.
Moments after the season-opening Nationwide Series race concluded with a cataclysmic wreck in which Larson's No. 32 Chevrolet pinwheeled against the catch fence, the lower dozen or so rows near the start/finish line should still have been jammed with astounded fans lingering over the remains of a 12-car crash caused when leader Regan Smith attempted to block the last-gasp advance of second-place Brad Keselowski.
Instead, several circular pockets were opening in the lower stands, with helmeted emergency workers in red jumpsuits rushing in with backboards. As the front end of Larson's car shredded away from the body, a hail of metal and two wheels had inundated the spectators. His motor lodged in a catch fence, injuring at least 28 fans.
"I didn't know anything went into the stands, really until I was getting a ride to the infield care center and then I looked up and saw a section was empty, so I figured something went in there and someone was badly hurt," he said. "Luckily, everyone seems to be doing OK now."
|Kyle Larson declares himself "physically fine and mentally perfect" after the harrowing ride at Daytona on Saturday.|
Larson, a 20-year-old uber prospect lauded by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and signed by owner Chip Ganassi to a developmental deal, is glad, most of all, he said, that the injured are improving. As for himself, the reserved and laconic driver assesses himself as "physically fine and mentally perfect."
And also glad that his full-time Nationwide schedule will have him back in a car this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
"I am definitely ready to get back in the race car at a track where I did pretty well in the truck last year," Larson said. "I am looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can get a win."
Crew chief Trent Owens said resuming normal activity right now may be more about finishing position. Though Larson displays precocious race talent and maturity, a resumption of normal activities could be crucial to a season of high expectations with Turner Scott Motorsports.
"My experience over time is the best medicine for any kind of accident that weighs on you emotionally, mentally, the best medicine is to just immediately get back in the car," Owens told ESPN.com. "It's just the best medicine to get back on the horse.
"I spent some time just talking with him and I think he's OK. I think most of his concerns, even after the accident, were with the race fans rather than himself."
Larson escaped the accident with residual soreness as his elbow struck his seat, he said. He felt fine by Sunday and he and the team were able to take solace in an otherwise spectacular commencement to his Nationwide career once it was reported the injured were expected to recover. The remains of his battered race car are still in Daytona Beach and will be sent to the NASCAR Research and Development Center for testing.
"The last few laps I was pretty excited," Larson said. "I knew I was going to have Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. pushing me. We got disconnected one time there and it killed our momentum, our shot at winning the race. It was a lot of fun, the whole race, I got to learn a lot of things. I was definitely excited about how my races was until the very end."
Larson said he hopes to make email or phone contact with some of the victims to find if they are "really doing OK," and while he said he hasn't felt guilt over the fact his car disgorged the debris into the stands, "if somebody was to get killed, it would suck to know that it was a piece of your car that might have gotten them. Luckily nobody got killed so that I don't have to worry about it like that. I'm just glad everyone is OK."
Part of Larson's feelings might have to do with the fact he was a passenger in the final wreck. Part of it may involve the membrane drivers must develop between themselves and the mortal danger they and, as evidenced by days like Saturday, fans assume.
"I think anyone who has a conscience would have some sort of feeling even down to myself and some of the drivers, if anyone's car, much less part of your own does something like that," said Owens, whose father, Randy, was killed in a 1975 pit road accident as a crew member for Richard Petty at Talladega Motor Speedway. "It's one of those things where the drivers and crews, we all understand the risk of working on race cars and doing whatever.
"But it's just hard to prepare [for this] scenario. We don't talk about that a lot, but of course, the human conscience is going to feel some part."
So in this case the best option, luckily, may be to just keep moving.