Pit stop: NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 halted for more repairs to track pothole

By Mark Long, AP
Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pit stop: Pothole forces red flag at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR prides itself on being the closest motorsport to everyday driving. It sure looked like that at the Daytona 500, with a bunch of drivers waiting for a pothole to get fixed.

NASCAR’s biggest race was halted twice Sunday because of a pothole in the pavement — lengthy delays that meant the finish would happen well over five hours after the start.

The season opener was stopped for the second time with 39 laps remaining. Kevin Harvick was out front, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr.

The drivers had completed 36 laps on the repaired superspeedway following a 1 hour, 40 minute delay for for the initial fix.

Once they got the green flag again, drivers reached speeds around 190 mph and did enough damage to unsettle the patchwork. They spent nearly 45 minutes out of their cars after the second red flag.

“This is a bad predicament to be in — for NASCAR, the fans, for everybody,” driver Kyle Busch said.

It was unclear how or when the hole developed on an area between turns one and two, but it took attention away from a strong race that had a record number of leaders. It comes at a critical time for NASCAR, which began this season by making several on-track changes designed to boost sagging TV ratings.

Speedweeks had been filled with wild races, close finishes and plenty of positive attention.

Until this.

“They need to call a caution,” driver Robby Gordon said over his radio. “There are rocks everywhere. There is going to be a big wreck.”

Officials initially stopped the race with 78 laps remaining in the 200-lap opener. Cars parked on pit road for about 30 minutes, then NASCAR allowed drivers to get out of their cockpits for a break. Track workers patched the hole, which was about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide, using blowtorches to heat the pavement.

It didn’t last, though.

The biggest problem might be the location of the hole, which is about where right-side tires run when cars are on the inside of the track.

“When you go through and hit it wrong, the jack post and everything hits,” Harvick said. “I want to finish it racing. That’s what I want to do. The car’s been all good. Everything may go sour. I’d love to finish it.”

NASCAR chairman Brian France said earlier that workers tried three different types of repairs, but the all-day rain Friday and cooler-than-normal temperatures made it difficult.

“That hole’s pretty bad,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Hit it. That’s what killed all the momentum we had.”

Fellow driver Clint Bowyer said he broke his front splitter in the hole.

The 2½-mile, high-banked superspeedway was last paved in 1978 and is scheduled for $20 million repaving in 2012. But officials said it could be moved up if necessary.

Earnhardt said last February that Daytona International Speedway was long overdue for a new surface. He reiterated his stance during the first break Sunday, saying there was about “2½ miles of hole.”

“It’s so damn slick,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like this. It’s 2010.”

Earnhardt guessed over his radio that the track had been repaved in the late 1980s or early 1990s. “Maybe we’ll try to Google it later,” he told crew chief Lance McGrew.

Not every driver was as eager for new asphalt on NASCAR’s most famous track. Two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards said they like the slick surface. New pavement could mean considerably different racing at Daytona and significant cost during tough economic times.

The last time a NASCAR race was stopped because of a hole in a track came at Martinsville in 2004. Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon tore up his car when a piece of concrete came loose.

Gordon was running second to Earnhardt Jr. when he hit the hole and damaged his car. Gordon avoided the hole this time around.

“Hopefully they’ll get it fixed,” Gordon said.

will not be displayed