NASCAR driver Ryan Preece cleared to race after ‘violent’ wreck at Daytona

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Drivers expressed concern over Ryan Preece’s wild flipping wreck from Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, all the while pleased that he was able to get out under his own power.

Preece, whose car flipped more than 10 times, was cleared to race Friday morning this weekend at Darlington Raceway. Stewart-Haas Racing posted a video indicating he is fine.

NASCAR also will re-examine whether grass in the area where Preece spun should or can be removed. Grass at racetracks often help with drainage, and, depending on the facility, can be required depending on environmental regulations.

“I don’t like the grass,” said Kevin Harvick during the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoff media day Thursday. “That wreck was more violent than it probably would have been if it wasn’t going from one surface to the next. … I didn’t like how it would grab in the grass and twist in a different direction.

“I know we’ve talked about it for a number of years to get the grass off the back straightaway and there’s more to it than just taking the grass off from all the rules [the track must follow]. The grass really needs to go.”

Preece wasn’t the only driver involved in a viscous accident Sunday. Ryan Blaney was turned head-on into the wall at high speed. The SAFER Barrier on the wall buckled more than seen in most wrecks (which is a good thing), and the front of the car collapsed the way it was designed with the updates NASCAR did to the front area of the car following Preece’s hard crash with Kyle Larson at Talladega earlier this year.

NASCAR confirmed to FOX Sports that the G-forces in Blaney’s wreck Saturday were among the top 5 (but not the highest) that NASCAR has recorded this year. Blaney said it was “by far” the hardest hit as far as G-forces he has ever experienced.

In June, Blaney hit a concrete wall at Nashville Superspeedway that did not have a SAFER (steel-and-foam energy reduction) Barrier attached. He suffered concussion-type symptoms after that accident.

“I felt better after this one,” Blaney said. “Some of the circumstances involved in it helped. My body felt more sore after this one than my head. That was good.”

As far as Preece’s accident, NASCAR was pleased with the performance of the center section, which was designed in its Next Gen car with additional bars to eliminate intrusion. Also, NASCAR added a rule requiring a fire bottle near the engine compartment that is heat-activated (it previously could be driver discretion to have it manually activated) — that fire bottle went off after Preece’s car caught fire when it stopped.

“It was a sheet of plywood — it just lifted way to easy,” said Kyle Busch. “That was concerning obviously, and just how fast it took off. It looked like an iRacing (virtual racing) wreck. It was crazy. I didn’t know that 3,600 pounds could move that fast.”

Few drivers have experienced a flip such as Preece’s. Typically when a stock car flips, it barrel-rolls. But Preece’s car flipped in the air like a gymnast, doing several full rotations before hitting the ground again. 

Denny Hamlin called the roof hatch “Tupperware” but he didn’t know if that was an easy fix, and Joey Logano was concerned that the car did not dissipate as much of the energy as it could.

“The car didn’t really shed any parts while it was spinning,” Logano said. “It stayed together and it holds him tight like a figure skater would when they’re spitting and that’s why they spin so quick.

“There was nothing really getting off the car and dispersing that energy. On the bright side, the cage looks like it did its job and he’s OK.”

Last year, drivers were vocal in NASCAR needing to improve the safety of the Next Gen car, which was introduced in 2022. Drivers said they were absorbing more energy in the hits, especially rear impacts. NASCAR made changes prior to this season to the rear of the car and then the changes to the front of the car were effective in July.

“Both [drivers] said that they feel OK so that’s a good sign that it’s heading in the right direction,” said driver and team co-owner Denny Hamlin. “Certainly, from what we’ve seen, the crushing of the front of the 12 car [of Blaney] is certainly a gain than what we’ve had in the past.

“I’m pleased with it. NASCAR has got to continue to look at it, but I’m certainly pleased with the progress that has been made. And it seems like the drivers who have been involved in it are pleased as well.”

Blaney said the changes to the front clip were key to him feeling OK. 

“I felt the front clip updates definitely helped me,” Blaney said. “Obviously hitting a SAFER Barrier wall was positive, but the front clip updates were huge.

“I felt like if those weren’t in and we wrecked at Daytona, I feel like it would have been a lot worse for sure.”

Now the next step will be any changes potentially as the result of the Preece accident. Kyle Larson had bloodshot eyes for weeks after a sprint car wreck where he made quick, multiple rotations.

“That was probably the most violent wreck I’ve ever seen in my career — and I race sprint cars,” Larson said about Preece’s accident. “That’s was crazy. …. When I wrecked in New Zealand a few years ago, it was not as crazy as that but very similar where I had very quick rotations.

“It’s just wild. The gravity wants to pull your whole body and hands off the wheel. My eyes were bloodshot for a few months. I’m sure he looks pretty attractive right now.”

Preece, for his part, hasn’t lost his sense of humor. When Bubba Wallace texted him to see if he was OK, Preece made a reference to the actress who played a nurse at the Daytona hospital in the movie “Days of Thunder.”

“He said he can confirm that Nicole Kidman does not work at the hospital at Daytona,” Wallace said. “He was good there. Blaney was better than Nashville, so I thought that was an improvement. … I know we’ve put a lot of work to decrease the lift [for Preece’s accident], but it’s so hard to replicate real-life moments in the race.”

NASCAR has a crash data recorder in each car as well as high-speed camera focused on the driver that is triggered when a wreck occurs. Blaney also was wearing a mouthpiece designed to record data as far as how much energy he absorbed in the crash. NASCAR works with consultants at Wake Forest University in analyzing that data.

Blaney didn’t wear the mouthpiece at Nashville.

“I’ve worn it most of the year — we’ve worked with Wake Forest on getting that thing fitting good where it’s comfortable for me to wear it all race,” Blaney said. “It is helpful wearing that thing. … The data they get off that stuff is huge of what we go through in a hit like that.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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