Rookie McDowell survives wicked crash in Texas qualifying

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Sprint Cup rookie Michael McDowell walked away after one of the most terrifying crashes in years during qualifying Friday at Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday's Samsung 500.

McDowell, who competed in his first Cup race last weekend at Martinsville, Va., was entering Turn 1 when he lost control and the No. 00 Toyota, turned violently to the right. The car shot up the track and hit the SAFER Barrier head on.

That caused the car to rebound off the barrier before turning over on its roof. The car became airborne, barrel rolling eight times before landing on its wheel on the inside of Turn 2.

The front end of the Camry was destroyed, but McDowell climbed out of the car, limping slightly as he waved to the fans and headed to the ambulance.

"For me to walk away from that wreck is unbelievable," McDowell said. "I just thank God I was able to do that.

"I saw the replay. That was one of the worst wrecks I've seen in a while. It wasn't exciting that I had to be in it, but nothing is broken and I didn't pass out."

David Gilliland blew an engine and dropped oil on the track about 20 minutes before McDowell made his qualifying attempt. Safety crews placed a drying element on the track to absorb the oil.

"I don't know if the oil-dry had something to do with it," McDowell said. "The car didn't feel quite right. Our time was six-tenths [of a second] off where we practiced.

"I came off Turn 4 and told my guys, 'This thing is really tight.' I got down in Turn 1 and it started to pull on me. I tried to gather it up, but the front tire locked up."

McDowell was asked what he was thinking while the car was rolling down the asphalt.

"I was just mad," he said. "I made some people mad last weekend and I made them mad again for holding up qualifying."

McDowell angered race-winner Jeff Burton last weekend at Martinsville when Burton said he felt McDowell got in the way of the leaders late in the race. Burton and McDowell spoke on Tuesday and cleared the air.

The severe impact of Friday's crash did major damage to the SAFER Barrier, the collapsible wall in front of the concrete barrier. Twenty feet of the barrier where McDowell hit had to be replaced after qualifying. Texas Motor Speedway installed those barriers in 2004.

SAFER stands for Steel and Foam Energy Reduction. The barrier is constructed of hollow steel tubing with foam padding between the tubing and the concrete wall.

"That was the hardest hit I've ever seen anybody take," Tony Stewart said. "That makes you look at what NASCAR has done and say they've done a good job with the barriers and this car."

Friday's accident was the most horrific crash to date involving the new car, formally known as the Car of Tomorrow. It has a larger interior and was designed to absorb more energy on major front and side impacts.

All drivers also wear head-and-neck restraints and sit in cocoon-type seats that help keep the driver from moving violently in a major impact.

Did one thing make the difference?

"It's got to be a combination of all those things," McDowell said. "These cars have a lot of room in them to allow for big impacts. That was a violent wreck. I felt every roll and maybe have a few bumps and bruises, but that's it."

Michael Waltrip, who owns the car McDowell was driving, said he feared the worst.

"From the time he stopped flipping until we saw Michael climb out seemed like forever," Waltrip said. "That was ugly. I'm very proud that our people build a safe race car.

"But I'm also so thankful to everyone for all the safety advancements made in racing over the last eight years. I'm thankful for the people who stepped up and said we need to make these cars safer."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.