Ryan Preece’s airborne wreck is rare for NASCAR’s Next Gen car. But not for Daytona

The racing world stood still on Saturday night, in the quiet moments following Ryan Preece’s flip after flip after flip in the grass at Daytona International Speedway.

It stood still for a few reasons.

Mostly, there was concern for the health and safety of Preece, the driver of the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing. The 32-year-old was able to climb out of the car on his own but was transported to the infield care center in an ambulance and later stayed overnight at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona, Fla., for continued observation.

The race team released a statement at 2:20 a.m. Sunday morning that said Preece is “awake, alert and mobile and has been communicating with family and friends,” and then the team followed up around 11 a.m. reporting that Preece had been discharged from the hospital and was heading to his home in North Carolina.

But there was another concern, too — an understandable shock that coursed through an industry that has made so many efforts to keep its drivers safe: How could this happen in this day and age?

“Fifteen, 20 years ago, these were the types of wrecks we expected to see at Daytona and Talladega,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the NBC broadcast on Saturday night. “And NASCAR has changed a lot of things about these cars to try to keep them on the ground. And for the most part, unless they find themselves in these odd situations, it works.

“That right there looked exactly like what we’d see in 1985, 1990, 1995, the way this car went up in the air and barrel-rolled down the back straightaway.”

Myriad safety measures have been implemented in recent iterations of the NASCAR Cup Series car to keep drivers safe. That included putting in new roof flaps, which were introduced to the Gen 6 car in 2013 to keep cars grounded.

In 2022, the debut of the Next Gen car, safety was thrust to the forefront of NASCAR again — this time after multiple concussions forced two drivers out of playoff contention and one, ultimately, into retirement. NASCAR responded by introducing a bunch of new safety measures to the Next Gen car in 2023.

Among those changes: adjusting the new rear clip, new rear bumper structure and new center section to be less rigid and harmful on the driver. Just this year, in reaction to a vicious collision between Preece and Kyle Larson, NASCAR made further adjustments to the center section and front clips that included a new right-side steel door plate, two left-side door gussets and an additional tube in the left-side main cage.

Ryan Blaney, in fact, credited NASCAR with making the front clip safer on the car after crashing hard into the SAFER barrier on the Daytona International Speedway frontstretch Saturday night.

“I’m alright,” said Blaney, who didn’t finish last night’s race after wrecking out at the end of Stage 2. “It’s just a big hit. I’m happy it had a SAFER barrier on it. Yeah, that was large. It’s a big testament to the new front clips. That would have hurt a lot more if we didn’t have the new front clip on it, so that was a positive about that, but still pretty hard.”

Despite these recent efforts, Daytona has still wreaked havoc in recent years. Running at 190-plus miles an hour in a tight pack is a “dangerous” endeavor — something Chris Buescher reiterated in his Victory Lane interview on Saturday night after sending his well-wishes to Preece, his good friend and competitor.

Here are six of the more dangerous wrecks at Daytona since 2013:

Chase Briscoe gets off the ground in 2022

Briscoe was sent airborne (very briefly) in the 2022 running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 after getting spun off in Turn 4, collecting a bunch of cars in last year’s regular-season finale.

Ryan Newman crash he doesn’t remember in 2020

Ryan Newman, driving the 6 car, got turned into the wall and then flipped a few times before skidding on the roof of the Daytona frontstretch. In an interview with FOX, he later reflected on the experience: “In my mind, it still doesn’t exist. And I don’t know how to answer that other than God deleted that chapter for a reason.”

Kyle Larson flies up in the air in 2017

This one happened when Larson got turned by a car behind him, smashed into the wall and then went up in the air. Larson somehow manages to get back onto the ground without flipping in large part because the car hurdled another underneath him.

Austin Dillon breaks catch fence in 2015

This one was scary — but it was also considered a win for NASCAR safety. On the final laps of the 2015 Coke Zero Sugar 400, Dillon comes from the inside line and gets projected into the catch fence, which prevents the car from hurtling into the crowd. The wreck happened at the end of the race, so Dillon’s crew members sprinted onto the track to check on him afterward, and Dillon triumphantly emerged from the car shortly thereafter unscathed.

Parker Kligerman flips on his roof in 2014

This one occurred in a practice session at Daytona, where Matt Kenseth gets loose and knocks into Joey Logano, who then collects the rest of the field. It ends with Parker Kligerman skidding a long ways on his roof.

Denny Hamlin goes airborne in 2013

In this wreck in the 2013 Coke Zero Sugar 400, Hamlin in the 11 car takes a sharp right turn into the wall before getting slammed from behind. The car was briefly airborne.