DAYTONA BEACH – A night after he won a prelim race and playfully took a sliding belly-flop in the infield, Austin Dillon experienced the frightening flip side of his sport 24 hours later.
This time Dillon, 25, climbed out of his demolished Chevy and waved, assuring his family and fans that he was, miraculously, OK.
Dillon and his car went airborne and violently crashed into the catch-fence protecting the grandstands at the end of the last lap of the Coke Zero 400 on Sunday night. The car's mangled engine sat on the grass.
Dillon said he has a bruised tailbone and forearm.
Speedway president Joie Chitwood said one fan was transported to a hospital and was in stable condition.
Chitwood added that his medical staff assessed 13 fans, but eight declined treatment and four were treated at the track for minor injuries.
The crash again raised the topic of driver safety.
“I’m shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive from what he went through,” Jimmie Johnson said. “It was just a frightening moment. I saw it in the mirror and, man, I expected the worse when I came back around.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the rain-delayed race, watching the crash unfold behind him, including seeing the bottom of Dillon’s airborne car. Earnhardt admitted he was so shaken and near tears afterward that celebrating the victory was difficult.
In February at Daytona International Speedway, Kyle Busch sustained a broken leg and fractured foot after his car slammed into an inside wall in the Xfinity Series race. Since then, the track and many others on the NASCAR circuit have installed additional safety barriers at their facilities.
In a Nationwide race in 2013 in Daytona, Kyle Larson’s car got airborne and crashed into the catch-fence. More than 30 fans were injured by flying debris that included the engine and two front wheels from Larson’s car.
Chitwood said Sunday night that he was pleased that the catch-fence – although torn in sections – held up through Dillon’s wreck after safety improvements at the track.
But Chitwood said NASCAR would study the incident and try to make racing even safer for drivers and fans.
"The catch fence kept [Dillon's] car inside the racetrack,” Denny Hamlin said. "I am not sure what else we can really do about it. They are freak incidents that happen."
Hamlin added, “A certain element of danger is part of our sport. It resonates with fans. We don’t want cars going in the air. It can happen if you're going 160 or 200. It's part of racing when you get this close.”
Dillon said that cars being lifted into the air is “not acceptable. I think our speeds are too high and we have to figure out a way to keep the cars on the ground.”
Dillon, who won the Firecracker 250 in the Xfinity Series on Saturday night, said the wreck was “just crazy.”
He said he was racing Jeff Gordon “and the next thing I knew was that I was looking at my roof for a long time. I thought it was all over when I was sliding there and the 2 [Brad Keselowski] came in and really got me. So it was a wicked ride but thank the good Lord above for taking care of me.”
Said Dillon, “I am just going to be really sore. It got my tailbone pretty good and my arm. Should be fine; just go ice it up and get ready for Kentucky. But just thank the good Lord for taking care of me and for what NASCAR has done to make the sport this much safer.
“I just hope everybody in the stands is all right. That is the next biggest concern. Just praying for everybody and glad the good Lord looked out for me tonight.”