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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, 49, was fatally injured Sunday in a multi-car accident on the final lap of the 43rd Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
"NASCAR has lost its greatest driver," said NASCAR Chairman of the Board Bill France, who himself is recovering from life threatening illnesses, "and I personally have lost a great friend."
His wife Teresa was at his side at the time of death. Dr. Steve Bohannon, emergency trauma surgeon who was on one of the ambulances that responded, said, "My speculation would be head injuries, basically to the base of the skull."
Earnhardt, who won the 1998 Daytona 500, was unconscious when he was cut from his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after the accident between Turns 3 and 4 of the 2.5-mile speedway as a tangled pack of cars raced to the checkered flag. He was immediately transported to Halifax, less than one-mile from the speedway.
"I don’t know what to say. This is incredible, just incredible. I think everybody is just in shock right now.
"I didn’t see much of what happened up there (in the fourth turn). After the race was over, I heard things didn’t look very good but, man, Earnhardt. You figure he’ll bounce right back," said Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Penske Ford. Your first thought is, hey, he’ll probably come back next week at Rockingham and beat us all.
"My heart goes out to Theresa and Dale, Jr., Kerry and Kelly, and to Taylor Nicole."
Earnhardt was pronounced dead while his driver, Michael Waltrip, was being interviewed in the Daytona press box after his first career victory in 463 starts.
In the accident, Ken Schrader's No. 36 Pontiac was pinned against the outside wall by Earnhardt's out-of-control No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, which came from a lower lane on the 31-degree banked turn.
"I don't know what happened -- all of a sudden we were all crashing," said Schrader, who was unhurt in the accident. "I guess someone got into Dale because Dale got into me and then we went up. We hit pretty hard and Dale hit harder."
Schrader tried to visit Earnhardt's car after the accident ended, but quickly left the area.
I didn't get to talk to Dale," Schrader said of his escape. "I went over there and then they (safety workers) got there real quick, so I got the hell out of the way.
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"The only reason why I won this race was Dale Earnhardt," said Waltrip, who was unaware of the news while he was being interviewed. "I wondered why he wasn't in Victory Lane until I found out he was hurt."
Earnhardt was the career victories leader at Daytona. His 34th career victory here came in the 2000 opening round of the True Value International Race of Champions.
Tony Stewart, who was injured in a separate accident, was also transported directly to Halifax Sunday afternoon. Stewart was injured when his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac was one of no less than 19 cars that were involved in an accident on the 2.5-mile trioval's backstretch. The race was red-flagged at that point with 25 laps remaining.
Stewart was listed as "alert and conscious" when transported. A CT scan of his head and neck and a x-ray of his left shoulder were negative, a speedway statement revealed at 6 p.m. ET. He suffered a concussion in the accident, in which his car flipped several times and was ultimately struck -- in the bottom while flipping -- by his teammate Bobby Labonte.
Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., 26, who finished second to Waltrip in the race, immediately left the speedway following the race to join his father.