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Several fans injured at Daytona after accident

Sun., Feb. 24, 2013, midnight

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –  At least 30 NASCAR fans were injured Saturday when a car sailed into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, and large chunks of debris – including a tire – flew into the grandstands. No fatalities were reported from the accident on the last lap of the Nationwide Series race.

The crash began as the field closed in on the finish line. Rookie Kyle Larson’s car went airborne into the fence that separates the track from the seats.

Large chunks of Larson’s car landed in the grandstands, and one of his tires appeared to fly over the fence and land midway up the lower section. The car itself had its entire front end sheared off, with the burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence.

Reports indicated 22 people were transported to area hospitals. All were said to be in stable condition. Fourteen others were treated on site.

“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,” said Speedway president Joie Chitwood.

“We’re in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing” today in the Daytona 500.

As emergency workers tended to injured fans and crews began making repairs, a somber Tony Stewart skipped the traditional postrace victory celebration.

Stewart won for the 19th time at Daytona and seventh time in the last nine season-opening Nationwide races.

“The important thing is what’s going on on the frontstretch right now,” said Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion. “We’ve always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport. But it’s hard. We assume that risk, but it’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.”

It was a chaotic finish to a race that was stopped for nearly 20 minutes five laps from the finish by a 13-car accident that sent driver Michael Annett to a hospital with bruising to his chest. He was being held overnight.

The race resumed with three laps to go. The final accident occurred with Regan Smith leading heading out of the final turn to the checkered flag. He admittedly tried to block Brad Keselowski to preserve the win.

“I tried to throw a block. It’s Daytona, you want to go for the win here,” Smith said. “I don’t know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasn’t willing to do that today.

“Our job is to put them in position to win, and it was, and it didn’t work out.”

Frances summon Brad

Brad Keselowski has been vocal about his desire to use his position as NASCAR champion to be an industry leader.

Sometimes that gets him in trouble.

Keselowski confirmed Saturday he met with NASCAR chairman Brian France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy, but revealed few details about what was discussed.

Keselowski was summoned Friday on the same day USA Today ran a lengthy profile piece on Keselowski in which the driver specifically mentioned both of the Frances in wide-ranging comments about the direction of the sport.

A NASCAR spokesman said Keselowski was not in trouble, and the meetings were not prompted by the USA Today article, but that both sides have sought more dialogue.

Earnhardt fastest

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a little noise Saturday. He topped the speed chart for the final practice session before today’s season-opening Daytona 500.

He turned the fast lap by averaging 198.592 mph around the 2 1/2 -mile superspeedway. David Gilliland, Clint Bowyer, and Marcos Ambrose followed.

Pole-sitter Danica Patrick and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart were among 10 drivers who skipped the 1 1/2 -hour final tuneup.

Patrick, Stewart, Jeff Gordon and the three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, who all also skipped the final practice, have been some of the fastest all week.

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