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Sigh. Whew. Everyone sighs and says whew where Ryan Newman is concerned. It’s a wonder he wasn’t hurt worse. It’s a wonder the car didn’t blow up when it came to a halt. It’s just a general wonder, and a lot praying went into it.

It’s just like those catch fences that almost gave way. They didn’t give way. They did their job. That battered Ford that Newman was driving almost gave way. It didn’t give way. It scared everybody, but it did its job. It’s just another reminder that comes along from time to time to remind us that NASCAR must be ever vigilant regarding safety.

Everyone should understand this. When I was a kid, parents used to say of a BB gun, “You could put an eye out,” and of a firecracker, “You could blow your fingers or off,” but as long as no one puts an eye out and no one’s finger is blown off, folks just keep right on playing with BB guns and firecrackers. A lot has changed, but there’s always danger out there somewhere.

You can’t stop racing. You can merely hope to contain it.

I like Newman. I always have. I enjoyed our occasional conversations. He’s a hard racer, and there is honor in that. When he doesn’t have a car capable of winning, he still drives the wheels off it, as Barney Hall used to say. Lots of hotshots get mad at him because he won’t just get out of the way, and he was on the verge of winning the Daytona 500 and damn sure wasn’t going to get out of the way in that.

Buddy Baker was Newman’s mentor when he came south to seek his NASCAR fortune, and Buddy used to marvel at his talent. Buddy told great stories about everything. He was the best driver I ever knew in being able to put racing in terms that everyone could understand, and he put Newman’s talent in terms like that.

Newman was a rookie in 2002, the same year as Jimmie Johnson, who won two more races and finished two positions higher in the point standings. Nonetheless, Newman was Rookie of the Year, and the principal reason was that many thought he was the more talented of the two. History suggests that many were wrong, but Johnson drove for a great team with a great crew chief, and Newman seldom was the top seed on his own team.

As a man who loves racing but also other sports, I have always thought Newman was built like a top-notch small-college linebacker and similarly sturdy and tough. Perhaps it was the sturdy build that saved him.

But that’s just a thought.