NASCAR had 2020’s top trending athlete, and it wasn’t who you may think

Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Ryan Newman’s last-lap Daytona 500 crash and miraculous recovery resulted in him becoming the top trending athlete of the year on Google, even ahead of fellow NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.

It’s not too often that NASCAR can match other major sporting leagues in terms of popularity. But in one particular category, that happened in 2020 with Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman.

According to Google’s Year in Search 2020, the 43-year-old South Bend, Indiana native ranked #1 on the list of top trending athletes throughout the year.

Of course, the reason for that was an unfortunate one — at least the first part of it. Leading the Daytona 500 on the final lap coming to the checkered flag, Newman took contact from fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney of Team Penske intended to help secure the victory for the manufacturer.

Unfortunately, it went wrong. Not only did Newman not win, but his #6 Ford spun into the SAFER barrier before flipping onto its top.

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Corey LaJoie had nowhere to go to escape the barrel-rolling #6 Ford, and his #32 Ford slammed into the driver side of Newman’s car, resulting in one of the worst wrecks the sport had seen in quite some time.

There were concerns about not only whether or not Newman would be injured but whether or not he would survive, given the scene around his car after the crash and the emotions of everybody up and down pit lane.

But Newman was extricated from his car and taken to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. Miraculously, within 48 hours, he had been treated and released.

He sustained a head injury and ended up missing three races, although it may have been more had the coronavirus pandemic not caused an unexpected 10-week hiatus from March to May, when he made his return at Darlington Raceway.

Second to Newman on this list of top trending athletes in 2020 was Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Fellow NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace ranked third on this list, ahead of boxer Mike Tyson in fourth and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in fifth.

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Newman is set to return for a third season behind the wheel of the #6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in 2021, and the season is scheduled to get underway with the 63rd annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, February 14. Will he make 2020’s crash a distant memory and capture his second victory in the “Great American Race”?