Kyle Busch will be out indefinitely after suffering a broken right leg and left foot in a crash at the end of the Florida 300 Xfinity Series race Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
Busch, who underwent surgery on his right leg, will miss the Daytona 500 on Sunday and is out indefinitely.
Matt Crafton, a two-time Camping World Truck Series champion, will replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota for Sunday’s race. It will be Crafton’s Daytona 500 debut.
Busch, after trying to give a push to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones with 10 laps to go, careened off the track as part of an 11-car smash-up, and he slid flush into an infield retaining wall.
The infield wall, unlike the walls surrounding the track, does not have the SAFER wall barriers that soften the impact of crashes. That prompted Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night to begin installing safety materials that will be in place for the Daytona 500.
Busch’s broken leg is comparable to the injury suffered by Tony Stewart in an August 2013 sprint-car crash, though Stewart’s was a double compound fracture. Stewart missed the final 15 races of 2013 and couldn’t get in a race car until February 2014.
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood bore the blame for Busch’s injury.
“Obviously our thoughts and prayers go to Kyle,” a contrite Chitwood said at a hastily called news conference Saturday night. “The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today. We should have had a SAFER barrier there today; we did not. We’re going to fix that. We’re going to fix this, and it starts right now.
“We’re going to install tire packs along that 850-foot linear square feet of wall, so we’re ready to go racing (Sunday). Following that, the Daytona International Speedway is going to install SAFER barrier on every inch at this property. This is not going to happen again. We’re going to live up to our responsibility.”
NASCAR executive vice-president Steve O’Donnell said not all tracks have SAFER barriers, and he said, “we always have those conversations with the race tracks and will accelerate those talks with the race tracks.”
Kansas Speedway, which like Daytona is owned by International Speedway Corp., began installing SAFER barriers after they were introduced to NASCAR a few years after the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“We work with NASCAR and the consultants every year, and we have always followed every safety recommendation that has ever been made to us,” said Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren, who was in Daytona. “We continue to do that as an annual process. The safety of fans and drivers are the absolute highest priorities we have.”
Sprint Cup drivers watching the race on television tweeted their outrage that Daytona International Speedway, which is undergoing a $400 million renovation of grandstands and suites, has not invested in soft walls everywhere on the track.
The inaugural race under the new title sponsorship of Xfinity was won by Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed — his first career victory — in a 1-2 finish with teammate Chris Buescher.
Buescher had a firsthand look at Busch’s crash while avoiding the chain reaction of collisions, and agreed that SAFER barriers need to be installed throughout the superspeedway.
“We keep running into situations where people find spots that weren’t thought of before (for SAFER walls), “Buescher said. “The sport has progressed so far in the safety aspect that we start taking it for granted, but there’s room to do that.”
Busch, 28, began his NASCAR career driving for Jack Roush in 2001 in the Camping World Truck Series.
“Whenever someone hits a barrier that’s not a SAFER barrier, they think an injury could have been avoided,” Roush said. “NASCAR and the race tracks have done a great job with the research with (the University of Nebraska) to define space for race tracks that will limit injuries.
“It’s unfortunate that Kyle hit … it’s probably the first time anybody ever wrecked in that particular space. Race tracks are all about risk, and drivers have to face the problem of having something happen that someone hasn’t planned for. Seeing the progress that has been made in making the race tracks safer in the 28 years I’ve been involved, I compliment NASCAR and the industry accomplishing those safety improvements.”
It’s been a tumultuous weekend for the Busch family. While Kyle was in the hospital, his older brother, Kurt Busch, was at NASCAR headquarters for a second appeal of the indefinite suspension NASCAR dealt him on Friday stemming from a domestic abuse case in Dover, Del.
The Daytona 500 will be the first Sprint Cup race without a Busch brother since Nov. 18, 2001, at Atlanta, when Kurt Busch failed to qualify for the race.
To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @randycovitz.