BREAKING NEWS: Several fans injured when debris from race car rips through catch fence at finish of Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

Austin Dillion's No. 3 goes airborne into fence at Daytona and back onto track / Headline Surfer
YouTube upload / NASCAR video / Large display photo / Getty images / NASCAR.Media.com / For Headline Surfer® / This was the crazy finish on lap 161 of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway -- a green-white-checkered flag finish won by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
In the photo above, Earnhardt is shown taking the checkered flag as the big crash behind him begins to unfold. Just after 'Junior' crossed the finish, Austin Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet was collected in a three-car chain reaction crash, sending it airborne and breaking through the catch fence -- with debris from the car hitting spectators in the grandstands. At least three fans were being treated for minor injuries.
At left: Austin Dillon went airborne in the No. 3 Chevrolet and smashed into the catch fence before it tumbled back onto the track just as Earnhardt took the checkered flag.
In the Headline Surfer inset photo, a fan struck by debris is treated in the Florida Hospital treatment center inside the grandstands at DIS following the race at Daytona International Speedway.
The race was far from a sellout and though fans cheered for Earnhardt and for Dillon, they booed when it was announced over the loudspeakers that the planned Fourth of July weekend fireworks show was cancelled.
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Who needed fireworks any way when there were enough sparks and some flames to boot at the finish of the Coke Zero 400 just after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the checkered flag: A race car ripped down a section of fencing that sprayed debris into the stands injuring several fans in the process at Daytona International Speedway early this Monday morning.

NASCAR did not release any information, but NBC, which broadcast the race reported three fans were being treated for minor injuries. Headline Surfer got a glimpse of one fan on a stretcher in the new Florida Hospital treatment center medical inside the grandstands. When track personnel saw the video camera pointed in that direction, they quickly closed the door.

Earnhardt, had just crossed the finish line to take the checkered flag in a race that finally end just before 3 a.m. Monday, because of a rain delay, but was more concerned about the fans in the grandstands than his thrilling victory.

“That scared the hell out of me,” said Earnhardt, the pole sitter who led 96 of the 161 laps. “I saw the whole thing in my mirror. That was terrifying to watch. You know a wreck like that has such a high potential for somebody to get injured." Earnhardt added, “I saw the car get high and into the fence and you're worrying about everybody in the grandstands and all that stuff. You don’t want to see that happen." 

A similar situation happened two years ago at the end of the Nationwide race when Kyle Larsen's car was nearly cur in half, but the catch fence held. Still, more than a dozen fans in the grandstands were injured by debris in that February race, including a tire, which struck a motorist in the head. Most of the injured were treated at Halifax Medixcal Center in Daytona Beach, the most serious being a fan with a fractured skull.

This time around, an entire rectangular section of the fencing was ripped down, but Dillon's car ended up back on the track, upside down, causing Earnhardt's pit crew to run towards the car to render aid, but he was not injured. Part of the engine lay in the infield grass on fire.

Within minutes of the crash, a Speedway fire engine raced across the inside of the fencing in the opposite direction of the race track and firefighters attended to three injured race fans -- none of whom appeared to lose consciousness, according to eyewitnesses Headline Surfer spoke with just minutes after it happened. 

Dillon's wreck was the result of a chain reaction when Kevin Harvick struck Denny Hamlin, causing him to strike Dillion's car and sending it airborne. The front and rear ends of Dillon's car were torn away by the impact with the catch fence.

Dale Earnhardt Jr wins 2015 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona / Headline Surfer“That scared the hell out of me,” said Earnhardt, the pole sitter who led 96 of the 161 laps. “I saw the whole thing in my mirror. That was terrifying to watch. You know a wreck like that has such a high potential for somebody to get injured."

Earnhardt added, “I saw the car get high and into the fence and you're worrying about everybody in the grandstands and all that stuff. You don’t want to see that happen." 

A similar situation happened two years ago at the end of the Nationwide race when Kyle Larsen's car was nearly cut in half as it slammed into the catch fence, but it held. Still, more than a dozen fans in the grandstands were injured by debris in that February race, including a tire, which struck a motorist in the head. Most of the injured were treated at Halifax Medixcal Center in Daytona Beach, the most serious being a fan with a fractured skull.

This time around, an entire rectangular section of the fencing was ripped down, but Dillon's car ended up back on the track, upside down, causing Earnhardt's pit crew to run towards the car to render aid, but he was not injured. Part of the engine lay in the infield grass on fire.

Within minutes of the crash, a Speedway fire engine raced across the inside of the fencing in the opposite direction of the race track and firefighters attended to three injured race fans -- none of whom appeared to lose consciousness, according to eyewitnesses Headline Surfer spoke with just minutes after it happened. 

Dillon's wreck was the result of a chain reaction when Kevin Harvick struck Denny Hamlin, causing him to strike Dillion's car and sending it airborne. The front and rear ends of Dillon's car were torn away by the impact with the catch fence.

Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet finished second. Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota finished third despite the wreck. Rounding out the top 5 were Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, teammates with Stewart-Haas Racing.

The race was far from a sellout even with an advertised 50,000 seats up for grabs. Fans booed loudly when it was announced after the race s over that the planned Fourth of July fireworks show was cancelled.

The race didn't get started until just before midnight, due to steady rainfall that began at 6 p.m. and didn't let up until just after 10:30 p.m. The race was scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m.

Confederate flags adorn the infield at Daytona Int'l Speedway / Headline Surfer®Photo for Headline Surfer® / Confederate flags like this were peppered throughout the infield at Daytona International Speedway for the July 4th weekend races.

Racing fans were promised fireworks at the conclusion of the XFinity Race on Saturday and the Coke Zero 400 race. They didn't get the latter and weren't happy about it, especially after NASCAR CEO Brian France put a lot of emphasis on ridding the Speedway of the Confederate flag in the first place.

Though France wanted the flags taken down, NASCAR stopped short of doing just that on First Amendment grounds. And NASCAR fans roared back, displaying their Southern pride on campers, shirts and hats.

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.