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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 11:48 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — At least 33 fans were injured Saturday during a NASCAR race when a car flew into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, hurling a tire and large pieces of debris into the stands.

The accident happened on the last lap of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the eve of Sunday's Daytona 500, which officials said would go on as scheduled.

The crash began as the field approached the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski to preserve the win. That triggered a chain reaction, and rookie Kyle Larson hit the cars in front of him and went airborne into the fence.

The entire front end was sheared off Larson's car, and his burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Chunks of debris from the car were thrown into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.

The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock several yards away from his car as fans in the stands waved frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene.

Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.

"It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened," said Rick Harpster of Orange Park, Fla., who had a bird's-eye view of the wreck. "I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn't see anything else That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe."

Shannan Devine, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was sitting about 250 feet away from where the car smashed into the fence and could see plumes of smoke directly in front of her.

"I didn't know if there was a car on top of people. I didn't know what to think. I'm an emotional person and I immediately started to cry. It was very scary. Absolutely scary. I love the speed of the sport. But it's so dangerous," said Devine who was planning to attend her second Daytona 500.

She said many fans got in the way of rescue efforts by trying to take pictures and videos, even jumping over fencing in hopes of getting closer to the scene.

Speedway President Joie Chitwood said 14 fans were treated on site, and 14 others were taken to hospitals. Chitwood didn't give any updates on their conditions. Local officials said 19 fans were taken to neighboring hospitals, including two who were in critical condition but were later upgraded to stable.

The accident happened the day before the Sprint Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 — NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl. Daytona workers could be seen repairing the large section of fence where Larson hit, as well as the wall that was damaged in the accident.

"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said. "Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.

"We're in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow."

As emergency workers tended to injured fans and ambulance sirens wailed in the background, a somber Tony Stewart skipped the traditional post-race victory celebration.

Stewart, who won for the 19th time at Daytona and seventh time in the last nine season-opening Nationwide races, was in no mood to celebrate.

"The important thing is what is going on on the frontstretch right now," said Stewart, the 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.

"So as much as we want to celebrate right now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and the fans that are in the stands right now because that was ... I could see it all in my mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at."

The accident spread into the upper deck and emergency crews treated fans on both levels. There were five stretchers that appeared to be carrying fans out, and a helicopter flew overhead. A forklift was used to pluck Larson's engine out of the fence.

"It's a violent wreck. Just seeing the carnage on the racetrack, it's truly unbelievable," driver Justin Allgaier said.

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, where his Richard Petty Motorsports team said he would be held overnight with bruising to his chest.

The race resumed with three laps to go, and the final accident occurred with Smith trying to hold off Keselowski through the final turn.

"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."

As the cars began wrecking all around Smith and Keselowski, Stewart slid through for the win, but Larson plowed into Keselowski and his car was sent airborne into the fence. When Larson's car came to a stop, it was missing its entire front end. The 20-year-old, who made his Daytona debut this week, stood apparently stunned, hands on his hips, several feet away from his car, before finally making the mandatory trip to the care center.

He said his first thought was with the fans.

"I hope all the fans are OK and all the drivers are all right," Larson said. "I took a couple big hits there and saw my engine was gone. Just hope everybody's all right."

He said he was along for the ride in the last-lap accident.

"I was getting pushed from behind, I felt like, and by the time my spotter said lift or go low, it was too late," Larson said. "I was in the wreck and then felt like it was slowing down and I looked like I could see the ground. Had some flames come in the cockpit, but luckily I was all right and could get out of the car quick."

It appeared fans were lined right along the fence when Larson's car sailed up and into it, but Chitwood indicated there was a buffer. He said there would be no changes to the seating before the Daytona 500.

"We don't anticipate moving any of our fans," Chitwood said. "We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes."

Larson's car appeared to hit where the cross-over gate — a section that can be opened for people to travel back and forth from the infield to the grandstands — is located in the fence. Previous accidents in which drivers hit crossover gates were severe, but the gates were in the wall and not the fence for Mike Harmon's accident at Bristol in 2002 and Michael Waltrip's at the same track in 1990.

Still, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said it would be studied.

"I think we look at this after every incident," O'Donnell said. "We've learned in the past certain protocols put in place today are a result of prior incidents. Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it's certainly something we'll look at. If we can improve upon it, we'll certainly put that in play as soon as we can."

Larson had been scheduled to race his sprint car later Saturday night in Ocala, Fla., and even seemed restless to get there during the late stages of the Nationwide race. He pulled out of the event following the accident.

"Honestly, the race itself pales in comparison to the injuries sustained by the fans," said Chip Ganassi, the team owner who has Larson in his driver development program. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the fans that were injured as a result of the crash. As for Kyle, I am very happy that he is OK."

Keselowski watched a replay of the final accident, and said his first thoughts were with the fans. As for the accident, he agreed he tried to make a winning move and Smith tried to block.

"He felt like that's what he had to do, and that's his right. The chaos comes with it," Keselowski said. "I made the move and he blocked it, and the two of us got together and started the chain events that caused that wreck. First and foremost, just want to make sure everyone in the stands is OK and we're thinking about them."

Keselowski said the incident could cast a pall on the Daytona 500.

"I think until we know exactly the statuses of everyone involved, it's hard to lock yourself into the 500," Keselowski said. "Hopefully, we'll know soon and hopefully everyone's OK. And if that's the case, we'll staring focusing on Sunday."

___

AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston and Jerome Minerva in Daytona Beach and Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Area Scoreboard

Boys Basketball

Monday, Jan. 12

%St. Charles 85, Bayless 32

%Westminster 64, Washington 44

Fulton SA at Providence    7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 13

Pacific 48, Eureka 38

%Borgia 72, St. Clair 36

#South Callaway 68, North Callaway 29

#Hermann 28, Russellville 13

Crosspoint 59, Heritage Christian Academy 18

%Francis Howell Central 87, Union 79

#New Bloomfield 63, Montgomery Co 59

#Harrisburg 48, New Haven 39

Thursday, Jan. 15

#North Callaway 65, Montgomery County 58

#South Callaway 84, New Bloomfield 58

Bethel at Fulton SA    6:30 p.m.

#Russellville 36, New Haven 34

#Harrisburg 51, Hermann 44

Friday, Jan. 16

%Washington 71, Bayless 43

%Union 65, St. Clair 52

*Crosspoint at Community Christian    6:30 p.m.

%St. Charles 67, Westminster 50

Providence at Fulton SA    7 pm.

#Seventh-place game — New Haven vs. Montgomery Co.    7:30 p.m.

Consolation game — Russellville vs. North Callaway    7:30 p.m.

%Borgia 60, Francis Howell Central 53

Saturday, Jan. 17

%Seventh-place game — Bayless 58, St. Clair 43

#Third-place game — Hermann vs. New Bloomfield   3:30 p.m.

%Consolation game — Washington 66, Union 59

%Third-place game — Westminster 66, Francis Howell Central 62

#Championship game — Harrisburg vs. South Callaway    6:30 p.m.

%Championship game — St. Charles 65, Borgia 40

Sunday, Jan. 18

Pacific vs. Jefferson City (Mizzou)    5:30 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 19

Union 86, Warrenton 62

Tuesday, Jan. 20

Park Hills Central 72, St. Clair 55

Fulton SA at Liberty Christian    6:30 p.m.

Crosspoint at CAGSL    7:30 p.m.

Linn 59, New Haven 38

Thursday, Jan. 22

Union 86, Cuba 72

Fulton SA at Rivers of Life    6 p.m.

Borgia 70, O'Fallon Christian 35

*Crosspoint at Thomas Jefferson    7 p.m.

Pacific 69, Wichita Independent 46

Friday, Jan. 23

Cuba at St. Clair    4 p.m.

Borgia at Trinity    6:45 p.m.

*Washington at Ft. Zumwalt E    7 p.m.

*Fulton SA at Crosspoint    7 p.m.

Pacific vs. Riverton at Frontenac Tny (Kan.)    8:30 p.m.

New Haven at Chamois    6 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 24

Pacific vs. TBA, Frontenac Tny (Kan.)    TBA

Monday, Jan. 26

^Rock Bridge 79, Northwest 27

^Lutheran South 76, Hillsboro 43

Owensville 41, Hermann 40

St. James 80, Montgomery County 39

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Jackson at Pacific    5:30 p.m.

^Borgia vs. Union    5:30 p.m.

~Warrenton vs. Chamois    6 p.m.

^Washington vs. St. Clair    7 p.m.

~Wright City vs. New Haven    7:30 p.m.

*Bethel at Crosspoint    7:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

Fulton SA at Thomas Jefferson    6:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

^Northwest vs. Hillsboro   5:30 p.m.

~Warrenton-Chamois loser vs. Wright City-New Haven loser    6 p.m.

~Warrenton-Chamois winner vs. Wright City-New Haven winner    6 p.m.

^Borgia-Union loser vs. Washington-St. Clair loser    7 p.m.

~Hermann-Owensville loser vs. Montgomery Co-St. James loser    7:30 p.m.

~Hermann-Owensville winner vs. Montgomery Co-St. James winner    7:30 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 30

^Rock Bridge vs. Lutheran South    5:30 p.m.

^Borgia-Union winner vs. Washington-St. Clair winner    7 p.m.

*Providence at Crosspoint    7:30 p.m.

Eagle Ridge at Fulton SA    7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 31

^Seventh-place game    2:30 p.m.

~Seventh-place game    2:30 p.m.

^Consolation    4 p.m.

~Consolation    4 p.m.

^Third-place game    5:30 p.m.

~Third-place game    5:30 p.m.

^Championship    7 p.m.

~Championship    7 p.m.

%Washington Tournament

#South Callaway Tournament

^Union Tournament

~Hermann Tournament

Girls Basketball

Monday, Jan. 12

St. Clair 60, Lutheran South 49

Pacific 65, Lindbergh 40

@Washington 79, Patriettes 28

#Harrisburg 69,  Russellville 45

#New Bloomfield 54, Montgomery Co 29   

Fulton SA at Providence    6 p.m.

@Helias 47, Sullivan 42

#North Callaway 49 vs. New Haven 39 

#Hermann 44 vs. South Callaway 40

Tuesday, Jan. 13

Ursuline 63, Pacific 44

St. Clair 58, Ft. Zumwalt East 27

Heritage Classical at Crosspoint    5:30 p.m.

@St. Charles West 45, Union 38

@Borgia 57, Eureka 35

Wednesday, Jan. 14

#Russellville 43,  New Haven 24

#North Callaway 63, Harrisburg 57

# South Callaway 46, Montgomery Co 28

#New Bloomfield 58, Hermann 50

Thursday, Jan. 15

Bethel at Fulton SA    5 p.m.

St. Clair 54, Northwest 38

@Sullivan 64, Patriettes 32

@Union 56, Eureka 26

Friday, Jan. 16

@Helias 38, Washington 35

Providence at Fulton SA    5:30 p.m.

#Seventh-place game — New Haven 52, Montgomery County 40

#Consolation — Russellville vs.  South Callaway  6 p.m.

@Borgia 47, St. Charles West 37

Saturday, Jan. 17

@Seventh-place game — Eureka 69, Patriettes 39

#Third-place game — Hermann vs. Harrisburg   2 p.m.

@Consolation game — Sullivan 45, Union 38

@Third-place game — Washington 55, St. Charles West 37

#Championship — New Bloomfield vs. North Callaway    5 p.m.

@Championship — Borgia 37, Helias 36

Monday, Jan. 19

*Owensville 78,  St. Clair 68

Warrenton 51, Union 44

New Haven 44, Montgomery Cnty 40 

*Duchesne at Borgia    6:45 p.m.-rescheduled for Friday, Jan. 23

Tuesday, Jan. 20

Fulton SA at Liberty Christian    5 p.m.

Pacific 63, Parkway West 43

New Haven 35, Wellsville 26

Crosspoint at CAGSL    6 p.m.

Borgia 56, O'Fallon Christian 26

Wednesday, Jan. 21

Pacific 55, Eureka 40

Thursday, Jan. 22

*Washington 56, Ft. Zumwalt East 30

*Crosspoint at Thomas Jefferson    5:30 p.m.

Silex 45, New Haven 44

Borgia 67, Trinity 22

Friday, Jan. 23

*Fulton SA at Crosspoint    5:30 p.m.

*Duchesne at Borgia    6:45 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 26

^Holt 60, Pacific 57

^Warrenton 42, Union 40

~Owensville 64,  Montgomery Co 32

Borgia 62, Cardinal Ritter 41

^St. Clair 64, Lutheran South 45

~Hermann 57, Wright City 26

Washington 74, Wentzville Liberty 19

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Fulton SA at Barat    4:30 p.m.

~New Haven vs. Montgomery Co    6 p.m.

*Bethel at Crosspoint    6:15 p.m.

~Hermann vs. Wright City    7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

^Pacific vs. Union    4 p.m.

Fulton SA at Thomas Jefferson    5 p.m.

^Wentzvillr Liberty vs. Lutheran South     5:30 p.m.

~Owensville vs. New Haven    6 p.m.

^Holt vs. Warrenton    7 p.m.

~Hermann vs. Chamois    7:30 p.m.

^Washington vs. St. Clair    8:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

*Borgia at Notre Dame    6:45 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 30

^Seventh-place game    4 p.m.

~Consolation    5 p.m.

^Consolation    5:30 p.m.

*Providence at Crosspoint    6 p.m.

Eagle Ridge at Fulton SA    6 p.m.

~Third-place game    6:30 p.m.

^Third-place game    7 p.m.

~Championship    8 p.m.

^Championship    8:30 p.m.

@Union Tournament

#South Callaway Tournament

^Washington Tournament

~Hermann Tournament

Wrestling

Tuesday, Jan. 20

*Ft. Zumwalt North 39, Washington 36

*Union 41, St. James 24

*Union 49, Sullivan 24

Warrenton 48, Union 30

Thursday, Jan. 22

Priory/Windsor at Pacific    5 p.m.

Borgia at Festus    5 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 23

Union, Pacific at MICDS Tny    TBA

Saturday, Jan. 24

Union, Pacific at MICDS Tny    TBA

St. Clair at Ft. Zumwalt South Tny    TBA

Tuesday, Jan. 27

*Pacific at St. Clair    6 p.m.

Borgia at Helias Tri-Meet    6 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

Borgia at Lutheran St. Charles    5 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

Union at Farmington/Summit    5 p.m.

*Pacific at St. James/Owensville    5:30 p.m.

Washington at Seckman    6 p.m.

St. Clair at De Soto    TBA

Friday, Jan. 30

St. Clair at Potosi/Festus    5 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 31

Pacific at Hazelwood East Tny    9 a.m.

Girls Swimming

Tuesday, Jan. 20

Timberland 140, Washington 96, Ft. Zumwalt East 87

Thursday, Jan. 22

Oakville 120, Washington 115, University City 9, Mehlville 6

Saturday, Jan. 24

Washington vs. Borgia    noon

Tuesday, Jan. 27

Washington at St. Charles West    3:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 29

Washington at Affton/Lutheran South    4:15 p.m.

Borgia at St. Dominic    8:30 p.m.

*Conference Games

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