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NASCAR

Daytona facelift gives famous track a new look

By Lewis Franck

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - The Daytona International Speedway will have a slick new look for this weekend's Daytona 500 after undergoing a long and costly face-lift since last year's race.

The 2010 event was reduced to a fiasco after parts of the 2.5 mile track starting breaking up, leaving a dangerous pothole on one of the high-speed bends on the famed Florida circuit.

NASCAR's most famous race was halted for almost two and a half hours as workmen frantically tried in vain to repair the damage, turning the event into a laughing stock.

"When we decided to repave the track and spend $20 million on that project that was our commitment to spare no expense to fix the problem," the speedway's newly appointed president Joie Chitwood III told Reuters.

The last time the track, originally built in the late 1950s, had been completely repaved was in 1978 and workers faced an enormous task resurfacing it this time because of all the additions that had been made.

They began their work in July last year, at the end of the NASCAR season, pulling down all the protective safety barriers and removing the 57 floodlights around the tri-oval circuit.

Crews and heavy machinery were brought in to start digging up the old asphalt before it was removed and replaced by a slick new pavement.

Work on the main track was completed in early November then the pit lane later that month and the first cars returned to the track in December for tire tests.

The early indications are all good. The new track surface is not only safer but also faster after drivers reached eye-popping speeds of 206mph (332 km/h) in last weekend's qualifying.

"It was a mammoth project and we were glad to do it," said Chitwood, a former president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who comes from one of America's most famous stunt families.

"It was unacceptable for our fans to experience that last year. That's we put in 50,000 tons of asphalt covering 33 acres."

(Editing by Julian Linden; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)