Daytona catch fence fully repaired
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Daytona International Speedway has repaired the front stretch catch fence that was severely damaged in Saturday's horrific Nationwide Series crash and is prepared to run Sunday's Daytona 500.
Fourteen fans were transported to area hospitals and 14 more were treated and released from injuries after the accident that occurred on the last lap when Kyle Larson's car soared into the catch fence during a multicar accident.
Two fans were in critical condition, one life threatening, at nearby Halifax Heath on Saturday night. The patient with life-threatening head injuries was listed as stable on Sunday.
"None are critical, none are life-threatening,'' hospital spokesman Byron Cogdell told ESPN.com of the seven injured admitted to Halifax Health.
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Driver Michael Annett has been released from Halifax Health after an overnight stay for a bruised chest suffered in an earlier crash Saturday.
Annett was already at the hospital when the final 12-car accident occurred on the last lap of the race. He will be evaluated again later this week.
Repairs to the fence were completed around 2 a.m. ET. A track-access gate that was destroyed was not replaced.
"We met with NASCAR,'' Daytona Speedway president Joie Chitwood said on Sunday. "We reviewed all the repairs we made last evening. We worked late into the evening and are prepared to go racing today.''
Chitwood said there were no concerns for the safety of fans in the 500. He said the 22-foot high catch fence was installed in 2010 after recommendations by engineers following the 2009 crash at Talladega Superspeedway in which Carl Edwards' car sailed into the fence and injured fans.
"We feel we've done everything as it relates to protocol,'' Chitwood said.
Chitwood said the track worked well into the night helping those injured, from transporting those released to their hotels to making sure they had accommodations for the 500.
Chitwood said the track is willing to relocate any fans sitting on the front stretch that are uncomfortable with their seats.
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NASCAR chairman Brian France said the governing body will continue to review what happened and make necessary improvements.
"You always learn something even out of a tragedy,'' France told ESPN.com after the driver's meeting. "We'll figure out how to improve things. That's what we've always done.''
H.A. "Humpy'' Wheeler, the president at Charlotte Motor Speedway when three spectators were killed when a tire went over the catch fence during a 1999 IndyCar event, said lawsuits surely will come.
Fifty were filed in the CMS incident with most settled out of court.
"If 20 people are injured there will be 25 lawsuits,'' Wheeler said. "There probably already are lawyers working on that.''
France said legal issues are "the last thing on our minds.''
Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's vice president for race operations, said the governing body is "confident with the repairs put in place.''
"It will be an ongoing process with us for the racetrack,'' O'Donnell said of evaluating the catch fence. "We have an R&D center up in Concord, N.C., that specializes in looking at things like that.
"We'll bring in the best and brightest," he added. "Anything we can learn will be put in place. We're ready to go racing at 1 o'clock today. But again, our thoughts are with those affected.''
O'Donnell said the tether system designed to keep the tires attached to the car in an accident "for the most part held up'' even though two tires went into the stands.
"The tethers did hold on, but the challenge is that piece obviously got away when it hit the fence,'' O'Donnell said of the front of Larson's car that was sheared off. "That's something, again, we can learn [from].
"The tethers came from an incident where we learned with a tire going and escaping from the cars. We implemented tethers. Now we've got to take another look and say, 'Hey, is that the best practice or is there more that we can do?' ''
O'Donnell did not speculate on whether the crossover gate in the fence at the major point of impact played a role in making the accident worse. The remaining front stretch crossover gates were not removed for the 500.
"If that's what we thought the experts said we should do, we'd certainly take a look at that,'' O'Donnell said of removing gates moving forward. "I think it's way too soon to make that kind of a statement without really studying exactly what happened and apply what we can from there.''
Hall of Famer Bobby Allison was involved in a 1987 crash at Talladega in which his car went airborne and tore over 100 yards of fencing. Like Saturday, fans were injured by debris.
"They've done a great job,'' Allison said of improvements since then. "That thing could have been really, really worse had the protection not held up as good as it did.''
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, who survived several traumatic crashes during his career, says more needs to be done to protect fans.
"Maybe a double fence with one right behind the other to stop something like this,'' he said. "The driver, we can accept [crashes]. That's part of the game. We have to roll the dice and move on.
"But you don't want to involve the fans.''
Sections H and I of the Campbell box where most of the fans were injured Saturday weren't short on patrons Sunday. The mood was festive as the Zak Brown Band played a prerace concert.
There was no fear that what happened in the Nationwide race would happen in the 500.
"Absolutely not,'' said Mike Fleagle, 36, of Chambersburg, Pa. "It's racing. It's what happens.''
Soniya Ally, 48, of nearby Lake Mary agreed.
"Everyone is happy,'' she said. "People didn't want to be afraid to come to the races. We spent lots of money to be at the Daytona 500. It only happens once a year.
"I'm not afraid. Need for speed.''
55th Daytona 500