By Doug Halberstadt
The 2010 NASCAR season may have come to a close back in November, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t racing ahead during the off-season. One of the biggest things race fans can look forward to in the 2011 season is the new pavement at Daytona International Speedway.
Track officials announced the repaving project last April after a pothole formed in the middle of this year’s Feb. 14 season-opening Daytona 500, causing the race to be red-flagged twice for almost two-and-a-half hours while patchwork repairs were made to the hole between turns 1 and 2. A more permanent patch was installed for the July 3 Coke Zero 400, and there were no problems.
Bulldozers and construction crews descended on the track immediately after the July race to begin the first total repaving since the track opened in 1958. It received new surface pavement in 1978, but this time the track is being completely redone from pit road to outside walls, and from base to surface. The $20 million pavement project is supposed to be completed by Jan. 1, 2011.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said: “With what happened last February, we need to build up the same trust again with the fans and make sure when they show up at Daytona International Speedway, they get the first-class racing experience they’re expecting.’’
Defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray and 17 other NASCAR drivers had an opportunity to take a few test laps at the repaved track this past week. Last Thursday at a press conference at the speedway, several of the drivers said that because the new surface is so smooth and fast and so much easier to drive, big packs of cars will stay together longer, and that means the chances of big crashes are greater.
“It’s gonna be different racing than what we’ve had in the past,” McMurray said. “The cars are going to stay bunched up more. When you’re really close together, it increases those chances” of a big crash, McMurray said. “You just gotta hope that you can make it to the end, because the odds [of a crash] are going to be really good, I’d say.”
Veteran driver Mark Martin also commented on the smoothness of the new surface, stating: “I think we ran six laps without even wearing the sticker off the left front tire. In fact, we could probably run the full 500 miles on the same set of tires.”
The drivers also praised the widening of the pit road, which they said was perhaps the most difficult pit road to negotiate on the entire circuit.
“It looks like Green Acres out there,” Kurt Busch said.
Even with the new surface, there’s no way to predict how the upcoming Daytona 500 will be. We’ll have to wait until Sunday, Feb. 20, to know for sure. That’s only 60 more days!
From the Dec. 22-28, 2010 issue