In a finish that evoked memories of NASCAR’s darkest day, the Daytona 500 ended Monday night with a harrowing, last-lap crash involving Ryan Newman, who was leading at the time.

Newman was left with serious but non-life-threatening injuries after his Ford was knocked into the wall by challenger Ryan Blaney at nearly 190 mph and flipped onto its roof. Newman’s car was skidding upside down, spewing flames, when it was hit again by the onrushing Corey LaJoie.

Up ahead, defending champion Denny Hamlin seized quick advantage and whipped around Blaney to win stock-car racing’s Super Bowl by inches. It was his third Daytona win and the fourth for team owner Joe Gibbs.

But the celebration was cut short over concern for Newman as emergency vehicles and track safety workers sped to his car to extinguish the flames. Track workers erected black screens around the wreckage as Newman, 42, was extricated.

He was transported to Daytona’s Halifax Medical Center, the same hospital that received the body of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. following his fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Nearly two hours after the race ended, NASCAR officials read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing confirming Newman was undergoing treatment and in “serious condition” but that his injuries were not life-threatening. “Our thoughts are with Ryan and his family,” NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell said.

“Definitely was trying to push him to a win,” Blaney explained later. “I don’t want to say, ‘Those things happen.’ I feel really bad about it, man, but close one. I hope Ryan is all right.”

Word on Newman’s condition was slow in coming, leaving Fox broadcasters, fellow racers and fans fearing the worst, given the harrowing sequence of events. Many recalled the crash that had killed Earnhardt as he rounded the track’s fourth turn 19 years earlier, the checkered flag in sight. In many ways, Monday’s proceedings felt like a ghastly reprieve.

The season-opening race had gotten underway Sunday afternoon as scheduled, but downpours halted the proceedings after just 20 laps.

After years of declining TV ratings and a precipitous slide in attendance, NASCAR officials were hoping the 2020 edition of “The Great American Race” would mark a turnabout, with close-quarters racing and a thrilling finish. But as the 200-lap event wound down, drivers’ aggression ramped up. They jockeyed for position two- and three-wide over the final 40 laps, and a multicar pileup resulted, wiping out several top contenders. Another melee followed until there were only 18 cars from the field of 40 on the lead lap. Newman was among them, having slipped past trouble at every turn.

With three laps remaining, an attempt to restart the race was marred when three cars tangled, bringing out the caution flag again. The second attempt worked.

The violent sequence of events unfolded with Newman leading a pack around 21/2-mile Daytona International Speedway. As Newman sped toward the finish, his Ford Mustang was punted skyward and into the wall after contact from Blaney. It landed on its roof, momentum carrying it along as sparks flew and flames erupted. Then came a second hit, from LaJoie, who saw nothing but smoke ahead.

LaJoie said he’d hoped that Newman "would kind of bounce off the fence to the left, but he didn’t, and I hit him. ... It was some scary stuff.”

Newman was eventually credited with a ninth-place finish as Hamlin steered his car toward Victory Lane. The Fox broadcast continued, but the gravity was evident to racers, both active and retired, who immediately turned to social media to voice their concern and offer prayers.

Ryan Newman is in serious condition after he was involved in a fiery crash in the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. (The Washington Post)

Newman’s toughness and tenacity have earned him admirers across motorsports.

Among those voicing concern Monday were two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan.

Wrote LaJoie on Twitter: “Dang I hope Newman is ok. That is worst case scenerio and I had nowhere to go but smoke.”

Fears increased after Fox analyst Jeff Gordon returned following a commercial break to close the broadcast, which had run overtime. Gordon, whose eyes appeared red, offered: “Safety has come a long way in this sport. Sometimes we are reminded that it is a very dangerous sport. Thoughts and prayers are with Ryan Newman.”

Speaking on SiriusXM Radio, Gibbs apologized after the race for his team’s celebration, explaining that the group didn’t realize the severity of the crash until it reached Victory Lane. He added his voice to the prayers for Newman.

In photos: A fiery crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500

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Feb. 17, 2020 | Denny Hamlin, center, goes on to win NASCAR’s Daytona 500 over Ryan Blaney, right, as Ryan Newman crashes during the final lap of Monday’s race in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Jared C. Tilton/AFP/Getty Images)

In many ways, NASCAR has never recovered from the death of Earnhardt Sr., its most polarizing champion, who was regarded as its fiercest competitor and the master of Daytona’s aerodynamic draft. But stock-car racing moved forward, instituting a series of safety precautions that made the cars safer and racetrack walls more forgiving.

Although fans intermittently complain that NASCAR had made the races boring, turning the competition into a single-file parade, there has not been a death in the sport’s top series since 2001.

— Liz Clarke

Find live updates from the Daytona 500, by Des Bieler and Cindy Boren, below.

4:47 a.m.
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Denny Hamlin says he was initially unaware of ‘the severity of the crash’

In the wake of Ryan Newman’s crash near the end of the Daytona 500 that horrified onlookers and left the veteran driver hospitalized in serious condition, Denny Hamlin and his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, have been criticized for the victory celebration they staged. After edging out Ryan Blaney for the win, Hamlin did doughnuts in his car before feting the triumph with Gibbs and his crew members in victory lane.

Hamlin subsequently wrote on social media that he was initially unaware of what had happened to his competitor, whose car hit the wall after being contacted by Blaney’s car, flipped and then went airborne when it was struck again by another car.

“First a[nd] foremost I want to give well wishes and prayers to [Newman]. I had absolutely NO IDEA of the severity of the crash until I got to victory lane,” Hamlin said on Twitter. “There’s very little communication after the finish and i had already unhooked my radio.

“It’s not anyone’s fault.”

Hamlin, who won his second straight Daytona 500 and third in five years, had told ESPN: “The finish, the history, that’s all great. One day it will all sink in. But right now all I’m thinking about is Ryan Newman.”

Gibbs apologized for the celebration and also said he and his team did not know at first of the severity of Newman’s crash.

“We got in [the winners’ circle] and we’re celebrating, and I think it probably looked to some people that we were celebrating — we didn’t understand that,” he said. ” … After that, when people told Denny and everything, it was subdued after that.”

“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” Hamlin said after the race. “But number one, we are praying for Ryan.”

4:20 a.m.
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Ryan Blaney: ‘Even though it’s unintentional, you don’t want to hurt anybody’

Ryan Blaney said he was trying to help fellow Ford driver Ryan Newman win the Daytona 500. Instead, Newman suffered a horrific crash as Toyota driver Denny Hamlin edged Blaney for the win.

Of the fateful nudge he gave Newman’s car in the final turn, Blaney said: “I thought I was pretty square, but I just got him to the right. I hope he’s alright. That looked really bad, and it’s not something I wanted to do. It definitely wasn’t intentional.”

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that Blaney was “visibly somber” when he spoke with reporters.

“Even though it’s unintentional, you don’t want to hurt anybody,” Blaney said. “I’m just waiting to see if he’s okay.”

After those comments, NASCAR provided an update from Roush Fenway, which stated Neman’s injuries, while serious, were not considered to be life-threatening.

3:42 a.m.
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Ryan Newman’s injuries said to be ‘not life threatening’

Ryan Newman was described Monday evening as having non-life-threatening injuries but in serious condition while being treated at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“He is in serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening,” NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell said at a news conference, reading a statement from Newman’s team, Roush Fenway Racing.

“We appreciate your thoughts and prayers and ask that you respect the privacy of Ryan and his family during this time,” the statement continued. “We appreciate your patience and cooperation and we will provide more information as it becomes available.”

“We’re grateful for the news about Ryan,” Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook said in a statement. “We had been waiting for information just like everyone else, so to hear some positive news tonight is a relief.

“Ryan has been an important part of the Roush Fenway and Ford NASCAR program this past year, and he is so respected for being a great competitor by everyone in this sport.”

2:47 a.m.
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Joe Gibbs apologizes for victory celebration

Joe Gibbs, whose racing team employs Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, apologized Monday for their celebration of that victory as Ryan Newman was taken to the hospital. Newman was leading the race after the final turn when his car was contacted from behind that of Ryan Blaney, sending Newman into a horrifying wreck and allowing Hamlin to edge out Blaney for the win.

There has been no immediate word on the condition of Newman, 42, who was taken to a hospital.

“Everybody was celebrating, and you knew there was a wreck, but we have a lot of wrecks and didn’t know that there was something serious about it,” Gibbs told reporters after the race. “We got in [the winners’ circle] and we’re celebrating, and I think it probably looked to some people that we were celebrating — we didn’t understand that. … After that, when people told Denny and everything, it was subdued after that.”

“It just makes it so hard,” Gibbs, 79, said of Newman’s crash and uncertain condition at a post-race news conference. “It’s such a close-knit community, you know everybody. … It’s hard. We’re all waiting.”

Hamlin’s spotter, Chris Lambert, said on Twitter that it was his fault Hamlin did donuts in his No. 11 Toyota as track personnel worked to extricate Newman from his car.

Lambert, who has been working with Hamlin since 2012, said he told the driver there had been a “bad wreck” and advised Hamlin to slow down on the backstretch to give the emergency crew time and space to operate. Lambert said he saw Hamlin line up for a lug nut check and assumed the driver’s next move would be to head straight to victory lane.

“I did not communicate any more info to [Hamlin] after that, because I was only concerned with finding out info on Ryan,” Lambert tweeted. “That is 100% on me, and I’M EXTREMLY [sic] SORRY.”

2:27 a.m.
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Ryan Newman’s team asks for end to speculation on his condition

About an hour after Ryan Newman was taken to the hospital following a terrifying wreck at the end of the Daytona 500, his team asked an end to speculation on his condition.

“We ask that out of respect for privacy that you please do not speculate on Ryan Newman’s condition until an official statement has been issued by @NASCAR, @FordPerformance, or @roushfenway racing. Thank you,” Roush Fenway Racing said in a statement.

Newman, 42, has been with Roush Fenway since 2019, following five years with Richard Childress Racing. “All our thoughts and prayers are with our former teammate @RyanJNewman right now,” that team said in a statement.

Another of Newman’s former teams, Stewart-Haas Racing, offered prayers for him.

The team with which Newman first began his Cup Series career in 2000, Penske Racing, now has among its drivers Ryan Blaney, whose contact with Newman’s car initiated the crash. Blaney finished second in the race as he was edged out by Denny Hamlin.

1:32 a.m.
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NASCAR drivers, teams express concern for Ryan Newman

Just yards from the finish line at the Daytona 500, Ryan Newman suffered a terrifying wreck when he was contacted from behind by Ryan Blaney as Denny Hamlin edged ahead to win the race. Newman’s car struck a wall, flipped and then went airborne as it was hit by cars coming up from behind.

Newman was reported as having been taken to a hospital, but there was no immediate news on his condition. While anxiously waiting to hear word on Newman, NASCAR drivers and teams expressed their concern on social media.

“This [expletive] is real,” tweeted Clint Bowyer, who finished sixth in the race. “We’re all on the road together doing what we love. Please let @RyanJNewman be ok here.”

1:00 a.m.
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Denny Hamlin wins second straight Daytona 500

In a chaotic, extremely close finish, Denny Hamlin won his second straight Daytona 500 and his third in the past five years. Hamlin edged out Ryan Blaney after Ryan Newman, who was just yards from winning the race, instead saw his car spin out, crash and go airborne as he crossed the finish line.

Newman wound up ninth, while Chris Buescher came in third, David Ragan fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.

12:46 a.m.
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Crash quickly scuttles first overtime

The Daytona 500′s first attempt at a two-lap overtime didn’t last long. Just after cars got the restart, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Justin Haley were involved in a wreck. Their cars survived but the three were sent to the back of the field. Let’s try it again, shall we?

12:26 a.m.
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Another major wreck strikes field

The crashes are mounting at Daytona, turning the race into a battle of attrition. Ross Chastain was a central figure in a multi-car pileup with just two laps left, and Joey Logano was among those involved.

Others affected by the crash reportedly included Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Ty Dillon. The red flag has come out again, and the race will go to overtime.

12:21 a.m.
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Field thins by another three

A Daytona field already thinned heavily by a major crash quickly lost three more cars, as Alex Bowman, Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill went out. Sorenson appeared to blow a tire, and Hill hit him from behind. Bowman’s car was damaged in a separate incident, but the upshot was that the race went to a caution with eight laps to go.

12:13 a.m.
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Kyle Busch will have to wait another year

Kyle Busch, the defending Cup champion, is now zero-for-15 at the Daytona 500. His car blew an engine just before a massive crash decimated the field, and the only good news for him was that he was able top get to the garage a bit sooner than others.

Busch, 34, played down the importance of a win in NASCAR’s most prestigious race, saying last week: “The whole aspect of having one item not checked is not that big of a deal. It’s not going to end my career by any means.”

Last year brought an agonizingly close call; Busch finished second to Denny Hamlin.

12:02 a.m.
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‘The Big One’ hits

At Daytona, it’s often just a matter of time before “The Big One” hits, and sure enough, lap 185 saw a huge crash strike the field. And if Brad Keselowski came into the race already miffed at teammate Joey Logano, their relationship probably hasn’t improved.

The crash appeared to begin when Logano moved up into the back of the car of Aric Almirola, which then made contact with Keselowski, who was near the lead. Keselowski was sent into the wall on the high side, while Almirola also spun out.

Along with Keselowski and Almirola, those reportedly affected by the crash included Alex Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, David Ragan, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Hailey, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, was in his final Daytona 500, having announced that this will be his last season. It remains to be seen if he and others can rejoin the field.

With the race sent to a red flag while the debris was cleared, the top 10 were, in order: Ryan Newman, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, Logano, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon and Reed Sorenson.

11:40 p.m.
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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent spinning

After staring in pole position, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was looking like a strong contender for most of the day, but his hopes for a victory took a big hit when he was sent spinning off the track with 25 laps to go. Erik Jones made contact with Stenhouse’s car, which sustained heavy damage.

Shortly before that, Stenhouse was penalized for going below the yellow line and was sent to the back of the main field.

11:32 p.m.
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Brad Keselowski leads Joey Logano with 100 miles left

With 40 laps — i.e., 100 miles — to go in the Daytona 500, Brad Keselowski was in the lead, just ahead of Penske teammate Joey Logano. Keselowski had expressed notable irritation with Logano after last week’s Busch Clash, accusing Logano of reckless blocking that caused a major crash.

“We shouldn’t be wrecking all these cars. You’d think these guys would be smarter than that. It’s the same thing over and over, somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field,” Keselowski said at the time.

Logano later said that the two had settled their differences amicably.

“I just explained my side of the story,” Logano said last week. “You know how it is, you get out of the car, you’re frustrated, you’re mad. Your emotions are running high, you haven’t watched anything and they stick a microphone in your [face] like this and tell you, ‘What happened out there?’ ”

It will be interesting to see the level of cooperation between Keselowski and Logano the rest of the way today.