DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. A violent, 12-car wreck on the last lap of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway tore a hole in the safety fence and sent debris - including a car engine and tire - careening into the frontstretch grandstand, leaving more than two dozen fans injured.
As of Saturday night, no fatalities had been reported. Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said 28 fans had been treated for injuries, 14 at the track's care center and 14 at local hospitals.
Byron Cogdell, the public information officer at Halifax Medical Center, said seven of the injured from the wreck had arrived there. Six suffered traumatic injuries, with two in critical condition and one child with life-threatening injuries, he said.
Six of the injured were also taken to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange. All were listed in stable condition, Cogdell said.
None of the names of the injured were released.
"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said.
Saturday's incident was one of worst involving fans in recent memory. The last NASCAR race in which fans were hurt was April 27, 2009, when seven fans were treated at Talladega Superspeedway for minor injuries when Carl Edwards' car went airborne and struck the frontstretch fence.
The accident threatened to put a damper on Sunday's Daytona 500, which features former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick starting from the pole - the first woman to accomplish that feat in the Cup series. Veteran Jeff Gordon will start alongside Patrick on the front row.
Track officials were busy late into Saturday night working to repair the damaged fencing in preparation for Sunday's Daytona 500 - the elite's Sprint Cup Series' biggest race of the season.
Chitwood said he didn't expect there would be any need to move fans or alter seats in the area affected by Saturday's accident.
"We're in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow," Chitwood said.
"We responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately."
The 12-car wreck began as the field was exiting Turn 4 and approaching the checkered flag.
Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block a pass from Brad Keselowski and instead got turned nose-first into the wall.
"I tried to throw a block - it's Daytona, you want to go for the win here," Smith said. "I don't know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasn't willing to do that today.
"Our job is to put them in position to win, and it was, and it didn't work out."
Rookie Kyle Larson, who was in the car behind Smith and Keselowski, got knocked airborne into the catchfence, a 22-foot wall of steel posts and reinforced wire that separates the track from the grandstand seats.
The fencing caught the front of Larson's car and ripped it away, leaving the car's engine and one wheel tangled in the fence. Another tire went sailing into the grandstand, as did large parts of the car.
Larson's car appeared to strike near the cross-over gate - a section that can be removed for access to the infield. Chitwood said the gate would not be available for use on Sunday.
There have been previous accidents in NASCAR with drivers striking crossover gates, but they involved gates in the wall rather than the fence and involved part of the gate being left open.
NASCAR promised a full review of the accident.
"I think we look at this after every incident," said NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O'Donnell. "We've learned in the past certain protocols put in place today are a result of prior incidents.
"Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it's certainly something we'll look at. If we can improve upon it, we'll certainly put that in play as soon as we can."
In the hours after the wreck was cleared, the scene on the frontstretch of the speedway was surreal. Participants in Sunday's pre-race show were practicing as speedweeks workers busily removed car debris from the stands and repaired the fence.
Tony Stewart was declared the winner of the Saturday's race, but NASCAR called off post-race media obligations out of respect for the injured.
Stewart, who has won seven of the last nine season-opening Nationwide races at Daytona, spoke briefly in Victory Lane.
"We've always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport," Stewart said. "But it's hard. We assume that risk, but it's hard when the fans get caught up in it.
"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 that are in the stands right now because that was ... I could see it all in my mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at."
Tyler Andersen, a fan sitting in the seats near where the tire landed, posted a video of the last lap and aftermath on YouTube. NASCAR quickly blocked the video using its copyright authority.
"The fan video of the wreck on the final lap of today's race was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today's accident," Steve Phelps, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
"Information on the status of those fans was unclear, and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident."
There have been at least two other recent incidents during major American racing series events involving tires catapulted into grandstands.
A tire sheared from one car and punted into the grandstand by a second car at an Indy Racing League race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999 killed three fans. That accident led to higher catch fences that extended farther over the racing surface at the Charlotte track and elsewhere, and a rule that "tethers" tires to the body of the race car in IndyCar series.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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