After horrific crash at Daytona, Ryan Preece cleared to race at Darlington

AP photo by Jim Topper / Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Preece No. 41 Ford goes airborne along the back stretch at Daytona International Speedway during a NASCAR Cup Series race last Saturday night.

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Less than a week since his frightening crash at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale, Ryan Preece has been cleared to race in the Southern 500 on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway.

"I'll see you at Darlington," Preece said in a video his Stewart-Haas Racing team posted to social media on Friday. "I'm sitting right here, I'm completely fine. I feel good and, obviously, I'm ready to get to Darlington."

Preece's No. 41 Ford went airborne last Saturday night and rolled over more than 10 times before coming to rest. He then got out of the damaged car and walked off without any apparent injuries. The 32-year-old driver spent the night in a hospital and was checked again during the week to make sure there was no lingering damage.

The Southern 500, considered one of NASCAR's hallowed crown jewel races, is the opener of the 10-race playoffs. Preece is not among the 16 drivers chasing this year's Cup Series championship.

The car Preece drove at Darlington was taken to NASCAR's R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, 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. Officials will share findings with drivers at Kansas Speedway, the next stop on the schedule.

Several drivers in the playoff field reacted to Preece's scary crash. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, both veteran drivers and former Cup Series champions, said infield grass at tracks such as Daytona can intensify crashes because the change in surface can lead to cars lifting off the ground.

"I don't like the grass," said Harvick, one of Preece's teammates at SHR. "That wreck was more violent than it probably would have been if it wasn't going from one surface to the next."

Forde wrote in his email that Daytona's grass area on the back stretch will be looked at, and parts could be paved over.

Harvick said he has talked with Preece every day this week.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion, said he wrecked in a fashion similar to Preece while racing in New Zealand a few years ago.

"I had like really quick rotations, and it's just wild," Larson 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 the video announcing he would race at Darlington.

All drivers who 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 Denny Hamlin, a playoff qualifier as a driver for Joe Gibbs Racing and also the co-owner of 23XI Racing. "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."

Preece never seemed to doubt he'd return as soon as possible. Hours after the wreck, he used a social media post to say: "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. And that's what I want to be as a race car driver, is somebody's who's tough."

Team Penske's Ryan Blaney, who is in the playoffs, was also involved in a hard collision at Daytona when he made contact with Ty Gibbs and went up into the wall. Blaney took a moment to catch his breath before indicating he was OK, got checked at the track's infield care center and was released Saturday night.

Blaney said he was sore on his right side for a few days but felt well enough to compete at Darlington

"I was happy to have Sunday off, that's for sure. That was nice," Blaney said. "But I'm starting to feel better and looking forward to this weekend."