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To repave Daytona, or not to repave Daytona, that's the $20 million question today

  Drivers may not relish the idea of lightning-fast new asphalt at Daytona International Speedway, but Sunday's fiasco and lengthy repair work on a pothole probably cost the sport dearly in TV ratings and fan reaction. So what to do? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ought to have some clout at this place, says that after Sunday's pothole-marred Daytona 500, it's time for Daytona International Speedway to be repaved.
   But track president Robin Braig, despite all the heartache of more than two hours of ragged pothole repairs, that nearly overshadowed the 500 itself, seemed to be quite reluctant to commit to any such project any time soon, saying he'll wait till a more detailed engineering analysis of the problems that erupted midway through the 500.
   Nevertheless Earnhardt, after a strong charge to finish second in the season opener, repeated his pitch that this track be repaved. Crews had to spend more than two hours trying to repair a big pot hole.
    "They should have repaved it several years ago," Earnhardt said. "We'd have it all weathered and ready to go right now. It would be in good shape.
     "It wasn't paved. Hasn't been paved since 1978.
     "It's due, I would say.
     "The surface has some pretty big bumps.
     "I like the grip; I like the lack of grip, whatever you want to call it.
      "But it's just hell trying to get through there (over the new first turn tunnel), especially when you're two or three-wide.
       "It's like you need the loss of grip, but you don't need the bumps to go with it.
      "They could patch this thing up a little bit in a couple spots. It wouldn't take long for them patches to get wore out (and easier to run on)."
      "Dale Jr. has not liked our pavement for many years," Braig said.
    "We listen to our sanctioning body and Goodyear. We take the drivers' and the crew chiefs' concerns. We mix that in with a lot of decision-makers.
     "But we don't think it's time to repave, unless we find out something different after we evaluate it this week. We've got engineers all over this. You know how many people are waiting in line to get out there and see that in the morning."
       Greg Biffle, who finished third Sunday, took a different tack about this 2.5-mile oval, figuring the track will indeed have to be repaved and not just repaired: "It's unfortunate they're going to pave this racetrack because the grip level is about perfect.
    "You can't go around this thing wide-open like you can Talladega. You got to come off the gas a little bit, then get back on the gas.
     "It is rough from the bumps."
    In fact it is probably the bumps in the corners that led to the pounding that created the pothole.
    Nevertheless Biffle insisted "the cars race around here really good. It's going to be completely different when they pave it...so the rules package will probably change again, because the speed will be much, much higher."

      For Earnhardt the day's run was certainly better than last year's here, where he missed his pits and then crashed out.
        "I had a hell of a time," Earnhardt said. "When you've got a good car -- one that will make some moves and not wreck --- I wrecked out of the last couple 500s.
    "I wondered what do I have to do to finish one of these things and finish it good? I might have been a little too careful.
    "This time I just let it all hang out. If there was a hole in the middle, I went there."
      Earnhardt was a big surprise at the finish. But he tried to downplay the day, repeated that he wanted to get through California and Las Vegas in the coming weeks before really assessing his chances this season, after such a disappointing 2009.
   And Earnhardt, who lost two Nationwide cars in Saturday's 300, said even second in the Daytona 500 wouldn't dull the financial pain of those losses: "Nothing will dull that unless someone has a $600,000 check they want to give me."
   Nevertheless Earnhardt was clearly relieved to get off to a decent start to the season: "It's great for our team to have a finish good anywhere, no matter what.
    "So I was happy,  I'm happy for the finish.
    "I feel good about our chances going into the next couple weeks.
     "I don't like going out West, but it's much easier after you run good.
      "I look forward to seeing how we are as a team. This is not a true gauge on what the changes are going to do to our team.
     "The next couple tracks will definitely give us a better understanding of where we are."

     The final miles were confusion to watch – great for the fans of course – and confusing for drivers too.
      At one point in the final moments Biffle thought the race was his, when Martin Truex Jr. gave him a huge shove down the backstretch: "We broke away, and I was just hoping we could get to the white flag.
     "I was half a corner from winning the Daytona 500."
    But then a crash set up another restart, and Biffle wound up third.
    "In a regular green-white-checkered I would have won the race,"  Biffle said. "I was thinking 'Why do I have to be the first candidate after the rule change to get the guy that didn't get the win?'"
    But at least Biffle made it to the finish. "I was glad I was out of that gaggle of cars," Biffle said. "When we're three-wide, people are slamming each other, and we're in big trouble.
     "But if we can get singled out, we can push out there."
   Biffle went to victory lane to congratulate Jamie McMurray: "I felt I was a big part of getting him up there.
    "He spun his tires like crazy (on the restart); I was against his bumper all the way through second gear, third gear, and fourth gear.
     "I pushed him across one and two, just really eased against his bumper and stayed locked on him. I was able to stay against him down the backstretch, and we just took off.
     "It was pretty cool. I feel I'm one of the guys that helped him get his first Daytona 500."
    The pothole was one of the day's major stories, causing blown tires and damaging cars, taking Jimmie Johnson out of the action, for one.
     "I know when I was hitting it," Biffle said. "I hit that thing three laps in a row. I was like 'Damn, I've got to quit hitting that thing; it's going to blow the right front tire out or screw the splitter up or something.
      "But when you get down in there (in the corner, toward the pothole), you got the wheel in it, you're against a guy, you can't see it -- you kind of know where it's at.....and you just run through it."
     Earnhardt insisted the pothole and the resulting cut tires and crashes didn't change the outcome of the race, though that will be clearly debated, particularly by Matt Kenseth and Johnson.
    And Earnhardt tried to put a positive spin on that situation, pointing out that drivers bouncing up and down through that section of the track probably created the problem. "This wasn't a fault of NASCAR, it wasn't a fault of Daytona's, or nobody's. It was probably, more or less, everybody's cars beating on the track with trailing-arm mounts and tail-pipes.
     "That's going to knock a hole in some asphalt, I don't care where you're at."


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Puzzled By Braig's Comments

Last year the story came that Daytona would be repaved after the 2011 season, so I'm left puzzled by Robin Braig's comments. The surface has needed to be repaved for a number of years and it showed why the way the cars handle a little out of whack every time the sport comes here.

pot holes

have you ever been down to look at that surface. it's terrible. and pit road is a joke

This track is great if you

This track is great if you like "Mogul Racing". I switched channels to watch the Olympics and stayed there. Watched the last 10 laps or so on DVR. The France family will have to take some money out of their pockets and at least fix the bumps, the drainage, and pit road. 32 year old pavement is a joke.

Should of done it years ago...

They should have repaved this track when the bumps were starting to get out of hand and when the track was ripping tires apart. Hopefully they repave it this year. Even if it's after the July race, I will be content with the decision.


They should've repaved the track instead of building that infield amusement park several years ago. Just another example of really how concerned NASCAR and ISC are about driver safety and a good race.

They Repaved Talladega

ISC repaved Talladega even though their surface wasn't nearly as worn. I'm not going to fault them for building an infield amusement park.

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