DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kyle Busch has become the unwitting poster boy for NASCAR safety improvements.
It’s not a role he wanted. But now that it’s been thrust upon him, he’s not shying away from taking the lead on suggesting changes.
The Joe Gibbs Racing star said Saturday he would like to see tracks remove grass from areas adjacent to racing surfaces.
“I think that we all need to just take a step and really pour every effort into everywhere around the race tracks,” Busch said at Daytona International Speedway. “In reality, there’s no sense in grass. We have absolutely no reason to have grass at any of these facilities. I think that needs to be one of the next biggest pushes that we can all have.”
Busch’s Toyota slid through a grassy area near Turn 1 at Daytona in the Xfinity Series opener in February. The grass did little to slow down Busch’s car, which slammed into a concrete retaining wall. Busch broke his right leg and left foot in the accident and missed the first 11 Sprint Cup races.
Daytona responded by putting down about 200,000 square feet of asphalt, most of that in the area of Busch’s crash. Daytona also replaced more than 4,000 feet of concrete walls with energy-absorbing SAFER Barrier, commonly called “soft walls.”
Busch lauded the upgrades.
“They wanted to fix it and they wanted to do everything they could do in their power to make sure everything was done right here at the speedway and to make it first class,” he said. “I think they’ve done that. I think there’s certainly always room for improvements. Any facility you go to, I feel like there’s room for improvement. Seeing those done here at Daytona was really good.”
Busch toured Daytona and the changes earlier this week with track president Joie Chitwood and NASCAR executive Mike Helton. Busch made several suggestions, most notably that tracks should remove infield grass that can cause cars to uncontrollably skid, bounce and even flip at high speeds.
“The grass is an issue that I think a lot of the drivers would echo my statements on,” Busch said.
Maybe so, but not Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It’s been mentioned by several drivers,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know about getting rid of the grass. I think we should get rid of the splitter on the car that digs into the grass. If you get rid of the splitter, you save yourself a lot of trouble.”
Aside from aesthetic concerns that would come with replacing green grass with less-appealing asphalt, Chitwood said handling water run-off would be an issue.
“We’re not going to stop analyzing the areas and what makes the most sense,” Chitwood said. “We’re going to continue to work with NASCAR and their experts on what’s the next improvements we can make here at Daytona. Based on the last couple of years and what we saw this year, we’re not going to stop figuring out ways to improve the property.”
Also Saturday, International Speedway Corp. — NASCAR’s sister company that owns Daytona and 11 other sanctioned tracks — announced plans to install about 50,000 feet of additional SAFER Barrier at its facilities. That includes the extra 4,000 feet at Daytona.
“As safety remains at the forefront, ISC will continue to work with NASCAR to evaluate specific locations inside the turns for future safety enhancements,” ISC President John Saunders said.
Busch would like to see removing grass at the top of the list. He even cited Ryan Briscoe’s flip in the IndyCar Series last weekend. Briscoe’s car got airborne after he slid into the grass.
“When a car turns around backwards and it gets to grass and it starts to lift and then it tumbles because it continually keeps getting chunked up in the grass, that’s not right,” Busch said. “The Ryan Briscoe wreck, if he would’ve got turned around, if it would’ve been paved, A, he may not have gone over. B, if he did go over, he would’ve just slid on his lid for a while and he wouldn’t have gone through the tumble.
“The hits that keep coming that are pretty violent. I’ve been in a hit like that I’ve been over on my lid a few times and it’s not fun to continually get those beating and banging around inside that race car does not feel good.”