A year ago, NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick slammed into the same infield wall that Kyle Busch ran into Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
Harvick walked away unscathed after the crash in the Daytona 500 but still railed against the lack of the energy-absorbing SAFER soft walls on the infield of the high-banked, 2.5 mile superspeedway.
Busch wasn’t as fortunate. He suffered a compound fracture of his right leg and broken left foot in an Xfinity Series race, and after undergoing surgery on the leg on Saturday night, he is out indefinitely.
The track hurried overnight and installed tire packs on the walls in time for Sunday’s Daytona 500, but Harvick wondered what more it’s going to take for all tracks to soften all of their walls.
“Well, that’s just it, it’s a reaction from the racetrack, unfortunately,” Harvick said before the start of Sunday’s Daytona 500. “I hit the same wall a little further up and voiced my opinion, and unfortunately I was just a ‘dot’ on the chart and there was no reaction.
“Now there’s a reaction from the racetrack. So, hopefully this is a lesson learned. The racetracks have to be proactive, and they have to look ahead for accidents that might happen. We know what fixes these walls, and that’s to put a (soft) wall in front of them.
“It’s for that one moment that you have to protect yourself against. Ninety-eight percent of the time, 99 percent of the time, things are going to be fine. So, help us by trying to prevent that one situation. Just like we did (after) Dale Earnhardt. You have Kyle Busch, one of our sport’s biggest stars, who is out and not being able to race because of the lack of attention that it takes to the safety on these superspeedways and instead of being proactive, the track was reactive.”
Joe Gibbs, owner of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, said he had no timetable for the driver’s return. Tony Stewart missed the final 15 weeks of the 2013 season after suffering a compound fracture of his leg in a sprint-car accident.
Gibbs said doctors will wait to treat Busch’s foot injury after Busch returns to Charlotte, but the surgery on the leg was successful, and Busch was in good spirits.
“Kyle, to be quite truthful, was kind of light-hearted and joking around with me and talking about wanting to get back in the car right away,” Gibbs said. “Kyle’s already telling (wife) Sam, ‘Hey, I just want to get back to racing.’ He has a great spirit about things like that.”
Gibbs said NASCAR should be proud of its safety record since changes were made after the death of Earnhardt in a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“We’ve been in racing 24 years, and up until this point we’ve had one driver miss four weeks,” Gibbs said of Denny Hamlin, who suffered a back injury in 2013. “That says a lot about the safety of the sport, and the great thing was Kyle had nothing (hurt) from the knees up.
“NASCAR certainly knows that the most important asset we have is our drivers, and I applaud the fact that we have had some of the wrecks and yet the safety factor has really been outstanding with some of the improvements that have been made.”
Busch, 29, is one of NASCAR’s busiest drivers. He not only competes in the Sprint Cup series, but as an owner in the Camping World Truck Series, he often races in those events as well as in Xfinity events.
Last year, Busch made 72 NASCAR starts — 36 Sprint Cup, 26 Xfinity (then Nationwide) and 10 truck races. He won one Cup race and seven times in each of the two other series. Gibbs said he hasn’t considered asking — or requiring — Busch to curtail his non-Cup racing. Yet.
“I’ve dealt with it for different drivers,” Gibbs said, most notably Stewart. “If you take Kyle’s situation … he has his trucks team and loves that, wants to race it, it’s a big part of him and Sam and his future, so you know he’s going to be racing some trucks. This year he cut down his schedule quite a bit there.
“In Kyle’s life, he has Sam and he has racing … he loves it. At one point in his career, we did cut back quite a bit, and it was one of the tougher years he had. Those conversations are obviously ones that you have, but in his case he just loves it so much and felt like it was something that really makes his happy, keeps him excited about life and you always wrestle with that.”
Two-time defending truck series champion Matt Crafton replaced Busch in the Daytona 500, but Gibbs said the team has not determined who will race in the No. 18 beyond Sunday. Crafton finished 19th. on Sunday
Drivers must start all 36 races to be eligible for The Chase for the Sprint Cup, but NASCAR can make exceptions in the case of injuries and illness. NASCAR has already done so for Brian Vickers, who recently had heart surgery and is expected back in a few weeks.
So if Busch were to return later in the season and win a Sprint Cup race before the start of the Chase, he probably will be given a waiver.