NASCAR driver Ryan Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, less than 48 hours after a horrific crash at the Daytona 500 that many initially feared would be fatal. How did he survive? While USA Today notes the final answer to that question won't be known until the investigation is complete, one thing is abundantly clear: Safety measures put into place after the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500 are working. It's now less likely for drivers to die while racing, thanks to the addition of such safety measures as HANS devices (mandated head and neck restraints) and SAFER barriers (energy-absorbing walls). The State News has more on the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device, which attaches to a driver's helmet to keep his head from snapping forward, reducing the compression on the spine. NASCAR made them mandatory in 2005.
In 2003, NASCAR also opened the first research and development center owned and operated by a major motor sports series' sanctioning body. The North Carolina R&D center studies safety and crashes; it will, for example, study Newman's car. The year prior to Earnhardt’s death from head injuries after hitting a wall at the Daytona International Speedway, three NASCAR national series drivers died in crashes. In the 19 years since Earnhardt’s death, zero have died, though crashes and collisions have continued to injure drivers. A former Daytona 500 winner talks to WBTV about some of the other safety improvements, describing the "complete cocoon" a seat forms around the driver: "It eliminates the side to side movement," he says. And underneath a car's skin, steel plating around the driver: "It puts the car at its most optimum, not letting some sort of projectile or actual hit like we took at Daytona from penetrating to the driver." (Read more Ryan Newman stories.)