"It’s been a little bit painful to be out of the race car and to not be doing what I’ve done for so many years," Ryan Newman said

Ryan Newman isn’t going to let that terrifying crash at the Daytona 500 stop him from racing.

The NASCAR driver sat down with Today co-hosts Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Craig Melvin on Wednesday for his first interview since the Feb. 17 crash, and assured fans he wasn’t walking away from the sport anytime soon.

“I love it. Really, I love it,” the 42-year-old athlete said. “It’s been a little bit painful to be out of the race car and to not be doing what I’ve done for so many years. I started racing when I was 4, 4½ years old. It’s just who I am.”

Asked when he’d be back in the car, Newman said, “I don’t know yet. We’re working on it. As soon as I possibly can.”

Newman was hospitalized after competitor Corey LaJoie crashed into his car at 190 mph during the final lap of the Daytona 500. The wreck left Newman with a “bruised brain” head injury, but he miraculously avoided any internal organ damage or broken bones despite being knocked unconscious.

“It’s still humbling to watch it and know that I’m sitting here without a headache, which is amazing,” Newman said on Today as footage of the crash played. “[It’s] just a miracle on so many levels, and thankful for so many people for prayers and all the things that went into me being safer in that situation.”

“I was knocked out, there’s a point of it where I don’t remember a part of the race,” he added. “Realistically, I just feel so lucky. On so many levels, I feel so lucky. You look at the crash and you think, ‘That’s spectacular in a bad way.’ But you look at the car afterwards, you think about what happened right for me to be sitting here.”

Ryan J. Newman
Ryan Newman
| Credit: The Today Show/Twitter

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In fact, there was a lot that went “right” in Newman’s crash.

A longtime advocate for safety on and off the track, he thanks the team at NASCAR for implementing changes in the car and on the course throughout the past 20 years that “helped me to be able to sit here today.”

Though his cage was “compromised” in the wreck, the “welds held together,” he said, which protected him. LaJoie’s car also pushed Newman’s seat back but then pushed him forward, to get him out of the line.

“Lots of things happened that aligned,” Newman said. “The angels aligned and held a really good grip with her hands.”

“It’s emotional, no doubt,” he added. “And I think about the fact that I was that close but really in the end, I’m humbled by the opportunity and experience to continue my life. To be blessed by so many people’s prayers. To be sitting here and hopefully make something of it. To enjoy life with my daughters.”

Those daughters — Ashlyn Olivia, 7½, and Brooklyn Sage, 9 — were side by side with their dad just two days after the crash, holding his hand as he walked out of the Florida hospital where he had been staying.

The moment was shared online by Newman’s team at Roush Fenway, in a picture that sent waves through the internet.

Reflecting back on it, Newman told the team at Today that his girls felt good knowing that “daddy’s alright.”

“They seem to be completely fine with the fact that I’m still daddy,” said Newman, who shares the girls with his estranged wife Krissie (they announced they were separating after 15 years of marriage just four days before the crash). “I think it’d be totally different if something else would have happened but I’m 100% who I was, which they were good with. Which I’m fine.”