DARLINGTON, S.C. – Ryan Preece has been cleared to race in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway after his frightening crash at Daytona a week ago.
“I'll see you at Darlington,” Preece said in a social media video posted Friday by his Stewart-Haas Racing team. “I'm sitting right here, I'm completely fine. I feel good and, obviously, I'm ready to get to Darlington.”
Preece went airborne last Saturday night and rolled over more than 10 times before coming to rest. He then got out of the damaged machine and walk off without any apparent injuries.
Preece spent the night in a hospital after the accident and was checked again during the week to make sure there was no lingering damage.
NASCAR will start its playoff run at Darlington on Sunday night. Preece is not among the 16 drivers chasing a championship.
The No. 41 Ford that Preece drove at Darlington was brought to NASCAR's R&D Center for further evaluation. NASCAR believes the Next Gen center section design approach helped limit intrusion, according to early findings from the organization's look into the wreck that The Associated Press got in an email from spokesman Mike Forde on Friday.
NASCAR will continue to review the wreck and decide on potential changes, which include roll bar padding, the roof hatch, the window net and what made Preece's car leave the ground.
It will share findings with drivers during the Saturday meeting at Kansas next week.
Preece didn't seem to doubt he'd return as soon as possible.
He posted on social media that, "“If you want to be a race car driver, you better be tough. Dammit. Fast (Race Choice Ford) Mustang. I’m coming back.”
He continued that theme in his video Friday, saying he was taught racers were tough. “That mentality, as a racer, it was instilled in me,” Preece said. “And that's what I want to be as a race car driver, is somebody's who's tough.”
Several NASCAR playoff drivers reacted to Preece's scary crash. Past champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick both said that infield grass at tracks like Daytona can intensify accidents because the change in surface can lead to cars lifting off the ground.
“I don’t like the grass,” said Harvick, Preece's Stewart-Haas teammate. “That wreck was more violent than it probably would have been if it wasn’t going from one surface to the next."
Forde said in his email that Daytona's grass area on the backstretch will be looked at and parts could be paved over.
Harvick said he has talked with Preece every day since the accident.
Past champion Kyle Larson said he had a wreck in a race in New Zealand a few years ago that was similar to Preece's. “I had like really quick rotations and it's just wild,” he said. “Like gravity pulls your hands and whole body off the wheel. My eyes were bloodshot for a few months, and I am sure he looks pretty attractive right now.”
Preece did not remove his sunglasses in Friday's social media post announcing he'd race at Darlington.
All drivers that were asked about Preece's wreck cited how good it was to see him emerge unhurt. That's a positive sign for the Next Gen car, which was under fire during its debut season in 2022 for safety concerns.
“NASCAR has got to continue to look at it,” said driver and owner Denny Hamlin. "But I’m certainly pleased with the progress that has been made. And it seems like the drivers who have been involved in it are pleased as well.”
Playoff driver Ryan Blaney was also involved in a hard accident at Daytona when he made contact with Ty Gibbs and went up into the wall.
Blaney said he was sore on his right side for a few days but felt well enough to compete this week at Darlington. Blaney took a moment to catch his breath before indicating he was OK. Blaney was checked at the track's infield care center and released.
“I was happy to have Sunday off that’s for sure. That was nice,” Blaney said Thursday. "But I’m starting to feel better and looking forward to this weekend.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing