DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Ryan Preece had a message to deliver, no matter how bad his eyes looked after his frightening crash at Daytona last week.
“It's OK to not race,” the Stewart Haas Racing driver said at Darlington on Saturday. “But it's OK to race, and I think that's what needs to be said.”
Preece took questions publicly for the first time since his horrifying accident, where he went airborne and flipped over at least 10 times before coming to rest.
Preece got out of the car on his own power. He spent the night at the hospital and before midnight, was suggesting to anyone who would listen that he felt good and was ready to go home.
Preece, who was cleared to drive in the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sunday night, is not sore from the crash. His eyes are just bloodshot and bruised.
“If I had headaches or blurry vision or anything like that that I felt I was endangering myself or anybody else here, I wouldn't be racing,” Preece said behind his No. 41 hauler. “I have a family that I have to worry about as well. This is my job, this is what I want to do and I feel complete fine.”
That's remarkable given what Preece, 32, endured a week ago.
He was in a line near Daytona's outside wall when he was bumped by Erik Jones and turned down into teammate Chase Briscoe. Preece soon lifted off the ground and began to flip over the grassy area on the backstretch.
Preece thought he might've checked up a bit before his wild ride.
“I've seen other interviews from drivers in the past that as you get sideways and as you go in the air, it's gets real quiet,” he said.
"After experiencing that, that's 100 per cent true. Beyond that, everything's happening so fast, you're just flipping through the air. Until that ride stops, all you're thinking about is just trying to contain yourself.
“You tense up and you hope you're going to be OK,” he continued. “Which obviously I am.”
NASCAR has said the car's safety improvements helped keep Preece from more serious injuries.
The organization will continue to investigate causes, including the possibility of paving over some grass areas to keep cars grounded.
Playoff points leader William Byron said Preece's accident was something drivers hadn't seen much in recent years.
Byron, like all drivers, was glad Preece came away in good condition and good spirits, indicators that safety issues in the second year of the Next Gen car are improving.
“We've made progress, but some elements of that crash that definitely could've been better,” Byron said.
Preece thanked safety personnel at Daytona and at Halifax Health Medical Center for their quick response and care he received.
The experience hasn't changed Preece's opinion of what it takes to succeed.
“This is what we're supposed to be, we're supposed to be tough,” Preece said. “And it's OK to be tough, it's OK to do those things. I feel good.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing
Pete Iacobelli, The Associated Press