Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Timetable not in Daytona's favor
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Engineers from North American Testing Corporation are scrambling to find a solution to repair the pothole that caused more than a two-hour delay in Sunday's Daytona 500 so there won't be a major interruption with upcoming events.
"Time is of the essence," International Speedway Corporation spokesman Lenny Santiago said Tuesday.
Santiago said several events at Daytona International Speedway -- including Bike Week, which begins on-track activities March 5 -- have NATC working on a tight time schedule.
He said no definite reason for what created the hole between Turns 1 and 2 has been given. Track president Robin Braig said Sunday that it could have been a combination of unusually cool temperatures, rain and cars bottoming out in a dip that has been there for "30 or more years."
"We're not sure if we have pavement failure because it could have been a gouge," Braig told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "As cars continued to bottom out there, they kept digging into it. And that was the only spot on the track in the shade.
"The ambient temperature was 14 to 20 degrees different from the rest of the track."
ISC tentatively has scheduled a $20 million project to repave the entire track in 2012. Santiago said whether that time frame will be moved up depends on the recommendation from NATC.
Santiago said ISC will take a similar approach to repaving Daytona that it did for Talladega Superspeedway in 2006. Because it took 4½ months to complete that job, not including all the preparation, it is highly unlikely Daytona can pull that off in time for its July 3 race.
Talladega president Rick Humphrey said the teardown of the old surface began on May 1, 2005, and concluded with a tire test Sept. 4. Prior to that, it took months of preparation, including building a temporary on-site asphalt plant.
"We didn't just decide in April to start paving in May," Humphrey said. "There were processes that went in place. Equipment had to be built to pave the track."
Humphrey said most of that equipment likely is available to Daytona, but added it's still not a simple process because of the high banking involved.
"It's not like paving a highway," he said. "The degree of turns and banking creates challenges that folks don't typically experience."
Humphrey said Talladega's old surface was removed to the base and completely rebuilt.
"We were concerned with what we might find down there, but very pleased we didn't find anything that created a problem during the process," he said. "The timing of it is what we were most concerned with and what we might find once we milled up the track."
Humphrey said he and others at his track also have talked with Daytona's personnel about how Talladega's standby crew works when a situation similar to Sunday's event takes place.
Daytona hasn't been repaved since 1977. It has been battered by numerous elements, including a flood last year after 17 inches of water were dumped on the area.
"Basically, they're still analyzing the dip there and the issue they had on Sunday with our engineering staff," Santiago said. "Once we have a conclusion we'll announce the next step coming out of that."
Many drivers don't want the entire track resurfaced, arguing it will be too smooth, take handling out of the equation and make the racing more like Talladega.
Among those in favor of repaving is Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR's most popular driver joked over the radio during the first of two red-flag stoppages that the track was a "2½-mile hole. A [expletive] hole."
"I've been wanting them to repave it for years," Earnhardt said. "If they repaved it years ago when I first asked them to, it would be just right now. Wouldn't it? It would be weathered and we'd be having the race of our lives."
Before Sunday, Michael Waltrip was among those against repaving the entire track.
"Now they have to repave it," he said. "I didn't think it was [needed] before the race. The rain and the weather have for the first time in forever caused a problem here.
"I just hope people that know everything don't blame the track, Daytona. There's no reason to think this would happen."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.