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Shane Hmiel: Tony Stewart reflects on the Terre Haute crash

  NASCAR's Steve Hmiel, here hugging Daytona winner Jamie McMurray, is in Indianapolis with son Shane, after Shane's bad crash Saturday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.

   It was late Saturday when the word first came out – racer Shane Hmiel, son of NASCAR star crew chief and team manager Steve Hmiel, had  been critically injured in a USAC Silver Crown crash while qualifying at Terre Haute, Ind.
   NASCAR's Hmiel, who helps run the Chip Ganassi-Jamie McMurray-Juan Pablo Montoya Chevy operation, quickly flew to his son's side.
   Shane, 30, was taken from the track to Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital.

   After running NASCAR from 2001 through 2006, Shane Hmiel moved to USAC's Sprint car world. Last season he was the series' 'most improved' driver; this season he won a Silver Crown race at the Indiana Fairgrounds, and he was third in the standings before Saturday's race.
   The USAC Sprint world, of course, is one of Tony Stewart's big loves; he owns the legendary Eldora track, and his own Sprint car teams went 1-2 at Terre Haute.
   But the world of Sprint racing is very dangerous, as Stewart well knows.
   "I'll be honest -- when Shane started running Sprint cars and Midgets and Silver Crown cars," Stewart was saying Sunday evening after his victory here in the California Pepsi 400, "it was like 'Oh, man, this could be very interesting.' Because he had never really run those types of cars; he had never raced on dirt. 
    "But he just never was scared of it; he never backed down from it. He said 'I've got to learn at this.' And he has given 110 percent ever since Day One. 
    "He's really turned into a great open-wheel driver.
    "So that's actually part of the reason I had called Irish (a friend Irish Saunders, Saturday night) -- to check on Shane. And he was going to the hospital to see him. 
    "It's something that doesn't happen a lot in open-wheel racing.  It was just a freak accident that happened...and the way he crashed, the way he hit the concrete wall, was, well, not too many guys hit like that. 
    "But it was a devastating hit, and obviously his injuries reflected that.
     "But to get an update from those guys at Indianapolis this morning (Sunday), and hear how well he made it through the night, and hearing the optimistic thoughts from the doctors...it made us all breathe a sigh of relief, knowing he made it through that first night. That's a big step. 
    "To hear the doctors say they don't think there's going to be any paralysis -- with a broken neck and broken back....we just went through that a month and a half ago with a close friend – Irish -- and with Shane we didn't want to see that happen again.
   "Irish Saunders works for Hoosier Racing Tire in Indiana, and his son Eric -- when we won in Atlanta (Labor Day weekend) -- that's who we dedicated the race to, Eric – who, the day before his 18th birthday, crashed in a motocross training accident and broke his back and is paralyzed from the chest down right now."

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