NASCAR driver Ryan Newman finished 19th at Sunday's race at Daytona International Speedway, but it felt like a victory being back in the driver's seat at the same track where he survived a horrific crash six months ago.
Newman, 42, who said he didn't remember leaving the track after his crash at the Daytona 500 in February, was grateful to be able to return to the famed Florida speedway for the Go Bowling 235 event.
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"It was special in more ways than one to come back in through the tunnel, get back inside the racetrack," Newman told Kerry Sanders on TODAY Monday.
Newman spent two days in the hospital after suffering head trauma in a fiery crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Driver Ryan Blaney clipped the back of Newman's No. 6 Ford Mustang, sending it into a wild spin and causing it to flip upside down. Another driver then slammed into Newman's car and sent it airborne.
The car skidded across the finish line on its roof in a hail of sparks and flames. Newman was knocked unconscious, but otherwise wasn't seriously hurt.
He was released from a Florida hospital only two days later. A photo showed him walking out hand in hand with his two young daughters.
"I really feel like when I walked out of the hospital that day back in February, my switch got turned back on when I had my hands across my daughters' chests," Newman said.
Newman made his return to racing on May 17 when he finished 15th at The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. He missed three races following the Daytona crash.
As he drove the track in advance of the start of Sunday's race, he made sure to express his gratitude for the emergency personnel at Daytona with a message over his radio.
“Hey, everyone, just want to say a big thank you," he said. "This is a special day for me, a lot of it because of all the things that you guys did back in February. … Thank you for your support, not only for me personally, but all of the things that you do for all of us drivers. It goes a long way, and I wanted to say thank you from the deepest of my heart. Thank you."
Newman told TODAY in March that it was "a miracle on so many levels" that he made it through without any serious injuries. He knows he didn't do it alone, which made him especially thankful in his return to the same track on Sunday.
"I've been around our sport long enough to know and seen a lot of crashes to know that I was a lucky soul that day," he told Sanders. "God left me back here on Earth to do some things, and one of the first things is to give thanks to those people that helped rescue me."