Daytona's repaving could bring parity to wild-card track
Daytona is on schedule with its repaving project that started earlier this year
The new track may level the field between big-money teams, smaller operations
Jeff Gordon could see his luck change Sunday at the Chase's third race in Kansas
DAYTONA -- Two ceremonies have been held during the Daytona International Speedway repaving project that began in July: a groundbreaking with Darrell and Michael Waltrip and the burying of a time capsule at the start-finish line, in which Jeff Burton and track president Joie Chitwood III helped.
There was no pomp and circumstance when the most famous patch in NASCAR history was removed from between Turns 1 and 2. But that section of the track, which was the location of the pothole that wreaked havoc on February's Daytona 500, will survive the repave, saved as part of an as yet-to-be-determined display.
"Look, for good or for bad, that is an interesting piece of Daytona lore and history," Chitwood said. "The fact that we had to put a concrete patch where the pothole was, I think that's something we want to keep."
The bumps and ice-like pavement that had become the track's trademark are gone, ripped away as the speedway was stripped down to the limestone surface that Bill France Sr. helped lay out over 50 years ago.
The repave began the day after the July 4 Coke Zero 400 and is on schedule with a target date of Jan. 1, 2011 or perhaps earlier. DIS has been in talks with NASCAR to lock in dates in mid-January for the Sprint Cup teams to test on the new surface, with the hope that Goodyear will be able to come out first and verify the new tire it's been working on. DIS has been doing its part, sending the tire-maker treads of the new track and Goodyear has been using Talladega, which was repaved in 2006, as a jumping off point, though there's the possibility that Goodyear may not hit the track before the Cup drivers.
Despite the potential conflict, Chitwood is expecting a problem-free Daytona 500 after last season's running was marred by two red flags and long delays due to that infamous pothole.
"We all want to test because that's the best way to verify [the tires], but if we don't get a test done, I think Goodyear has some really good similar data they can use to be ready for Speedweeks," Chitwood said.
For the drivers though, there won't be any data to go off of. Those decades of analysis and technical data on Daytona setups were, for all intents and purposes, torn up with the asphalt. That means Prism Motorsports will have as much knowledge as Hendrick Motorsports. Basically, it could turn the 2011 running of the 500 into a complete wild card, meaning the impending testing dates will be an all-important reintroduction.
"I think the track is going to have a lot of speed to it," said David Ragan, who ran eight Cup races on the old surface. "I'll just be looking to see the transition from straightaway to corner; has it changed any? Just getting a feel if there's anything majorly different or is there just new asphalt down?"
The parking lot behind the backstretch grandstand has been turned into an asphalt plant. It's a strange sight: dump trucks awaiting the mix with posters of some of the track's most storied moments draped behind them. With the nearest facility miles away, it was a necessity to create both the right mix and make certain it's the proper temperature.
It's all a testament to invention by necessity. The machinery that's being used includes bulldozers anchored to the outside of the wall with mechanical arms that connect to the paving equipment to keep it from sliding down the 31-degree banking. It's an engineering feat right out of Modern Marvels.
"You have to invent a lot of the equipment to use," said Bill Braniff, senior director of construction for North American Testing Company, the engineering arm of International Speedway Corporation. "There's nothing on the shelf you can use to pave a 31-degree track."
DIS spokesman Andrew Booth estimates 50,000 tons of asphalt will be used to cover the 1.4 million square feet of surface, which includes the 2.5-mile track, the apron and runoff areas. Instead of replacing the asphalt in the pit boxes, Daytona is moving to concrete, which is found at most NASCAR tracks. While it's ISC policy not to discuss financial figures, one construction insider puts the price tag north of $15 million.
But it's a challenge and a cost, that Chitwood says is well worth it for NASCAR's crown jewel.
"It's our commitment to do whatever it takes to do it right," he said. "This is our flagship brand, this is the Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR was born in Daytona. ... Where I would be more concerned is if we were treating it like any other paving job."
21.4: Jimmie Johnson's average finish on the final eight Chase tracks, best among all active drivers.
19: J.J.'s career Chase victories in 62 playoff races after his victory at Dover.
6: The next closest drivers in career Chase wins are Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards with six apiece.
Jeff Gordon. The drought is reaching legendary proportions, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he can get off the schneid in Kansas City and make a move out of eighth in the Chase standings. Gordon's average finish of 8.9 is the best of any current driver, and in the last three races he's finished no worse than fifth, including last season when Tony Stewart beat him to the line by less than a second. But most encouraging: earlier this season he was third at Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile tri-oval that's very similar to Kansas.