TALLADEGA, Ala. – On second thought, Daytona International Speedway will receive a facelift before Speedweeks next February.
With NASCAR's biggest show of the season -- the 52nd Daytona 500 -- marred by two stoppage of plays lasting nearly three hours to repair a pothole between Turns 1 and 2 during the race last February, DIS officials decided it was in the best interest of the sport to repave the 2.5-mile track.
"We just can't risk it," said DIS President Robin Braig. "It's the Daytona 500. We owe it to NASCAR and our television partners. We can't risk it again. There was only one window to do it, immediately following the Coke Zero 400."
This project marks just the second time in the track's 52-year history that Daytona is repaving the surface. The last repaving took place in 1978. Asphalt will be used to cover the track surface, skid pads, apron and pit road. Concrete will cover the pit stalls.
Although Braig would not commit to the project's cost, he admitted that the estimate of $20 million "was pretty close."
Bill Braniff, senior director of construction for North American Testing Company (a subsidiary of International Speedway Corporation), said any pavement has "a useful service life" and inevitably reaches the point when it's "the right time to repave."
"After the 500 we inspected the rest of the track." Braniff said. "We didn't find any other areas around the track which had the same type of characteristics as the area of the pothole."
Braig said several drivers were consulted prior to making the decision. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has two Cup wins at Daytona, admits that the old pavement was "getting past its prime."
"The old surface was a lot of fun," said Earnhardt. "The sooner we get a new surface down that can get some weather on it, the quicker we will get to the kind of race track that everybody wants.
"It is one of the most popular and important tracks on our circuit. I'm glad to see it get a facelift. It should be a lot of fun when we go back there. It should be a really good looking track and surface when we get back there."
Earnhardt believes the new pavement will offer drivers "the ability to run side-by-side for a longer period of time on the tire" and offer more grip.
With the smoother surface, Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray anticipates the racing will be a little bit different.
"Daytona has always been the place you could run 10 or 12 laps wide open and then you start to slide around," McMurray said. "With the bumps off of turn two and off of turn four, it made it harder to run side-by-side. I would assume we will see more three wide, side-by-side for longer throughout the run. It should be really exciting for the fans."
Goodyear's Stu Grant anticipates holding a test later this season using the current Daytona tire as the baseline.
NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton isn't ruling out a full series test prior to Speedweeks.
"We'll always look at that," Pemberton said. "If you look at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), it's important to get the track rubbered in. Look at what we did last November (with the Nationwide Series cars) and last month with the spoilers and (restrictor) plates. We put a lot of effort into putting on a quality event."