DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — An unidentified number of NASCAR fans were injured Saturday when debris from a wild crash on the last lap of the Nationwide Series season opener was sent flying into the grandstands at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR officials did not disclose the number or severity of the injuries, but it was readily apparent a number of fans were injured when a last-lap melee erupted in front of the grandstands on the front stretch when the No. 32 Chevrolet of rookie driver Kyle Larsen helicoptered into the catch fence, which sheared the front-end suspension and engine.
A tire from Larsen’s car landed nine rows up in the grandstands near the start-finish line at Daytona’s 2.5-mile, tri-oval.
“We’ve always known that since racing started that it’s a dangerous sport,’’ said Tony Stewart, who eluded the last-lap carnage from the multi-car melee that was triggered when race leader Regan Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski. “It’s hard and we assume that risk, but it’s hard when fans get caught up in it.’’
The incident cast a pall on Stewart’s muted Victory Lane celebration after the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver won the Nationwide Series season opener for the seventh time in his career and fifth time in the last six races.
“So as much as we want to celebrate right now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I’m more worried about the drivers and the fans in the stands right now,’’ Stewart said. “I could see it all in the mirror and it didn’t look good from our side.’’