Repaving Daytona Will Bring Changes for Both Fans and Drivers

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Repaving Daytona Will Bring Changes for Both Fans and Drivers
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Sometimes, you have to accept the good with the bad.

That's what everyone will be doing when workers at Daytona International Speedway begin the process of repaving the notorious speedway for the first time since 1978, the first time the track was ever paved.

Many will agree the speedway needs a new surface after years of wear and tear that came to a head at this year’s Daytona 500.

A pothole formed in between turns one and two, resulting in two red flags and over two hours in delays while track officials worked to patch it in order for the race to run to completion.

Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished first and second respectively in the 500, were both on hand when the project was announced in late April. Both drivers felt it was time for a change, and that this would be for the best.

Earnhardt Jr. has been openly critical of the track's condition, saying that he had expressed the need to repave the surface for years. It's not surprising that he’s on board with the speedway’s decision.

“I think it’s a good choice to put a new surface down,” he said during the announcement.

“The old surface was kinda getting past its prime. The sooner we get a new surface down, it can get some weather on it, and the sooner we get a new racetrack everybody wants.”

He continued, “It’s one of the most popular and important tracks on our circuit and I’m glad to see it get a face lift. By the time we get their it should be a good looking surface.”

A repaving was eventually bound to happen, the pothole just sped up the proceedings. And here we are, getting ready to run one final race, the Coke Zero 400, with the old surface.

Arriving back in February of 2011, there will be a whole new look, both physically and mentally, for everyone to get used to.

Having drivers agreeing with the decision and getting a fresh batch of pavement, thus eliminating any chance of having further problems, is the good in all of this.

What may turn out to be a good thing is that this year there were 88 lead changes in the spring Talladega race. Why does the Talladega race matter? It’s leading many to hope that what we'll see the same thing when Daytona gets a new surface, a surface bound to be similar to ‘Dega.

Remember, Talladega went from the same type of pavement Daytona currently has to the smooth blacktop race fans currently see when tuning into a race.

The bad comes from changing Daytona's identity by giving the venue a new surface. Compared to sister track Talladega, Daytona is much rougher, providing more of a handling-centered storyline.

Cars visibly bounce around the track, making drivers work for every inch and never giving them a chance to rest.

No longer are fans going to hear about a driver getting a wedge or trackbar adjustment on a pit stop, and it’s unlikely that sparks will fly from underneath when the car digs in and hits the high banks.

Daytona has put on great racing over the years, from the 1979 Daytona 500 that ended with a fight to an emotional victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr in July of 2001.

Talladega has also put on great racing, but great racing that is different than Daytona. Talladega is more like a Sunday drive with grandma in terms of surface conditions.

Instead of remaining a get up and hang onto the wheel track, Daytona will be as smooth as glass. That takes it from a sun-stained pavement to black asphalt, and a level playing field. Certain drivers will no longer have an advantage.

Could this mean that drivers like Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and even Kyle Busch, who are normally near the front of the field in Daytona, will have to deal with drivers that normally aren’t?

Competing at Daytona suddenly becomes wide-open and the "expect the unexpected" tage is even more relevant than it already was. Tires won’t fall off, drivers won’t be wrestling their cars. In other words, it’s going to look just like Talladega.

Not to say that’s a bad thing. But do NASCAR fans want two predictable restrictor plate races? Everyone knew that Daytona and Talladega would bring two different beasts.

Even McMurray acknowledges that racing at Daytona will now be different. McMurray said, “It’s going to make the racing a little different. I would assume we will see more three-wide, side-by-side for long throughout a run.”

Sounds good on paper. The only problem is that Daytona doesn’t normally have three-wide racing. The track isn’t wide enough, and every driver knows not to tempt fate in trying to see what happens if they race that way for 500 miles. And they certainly wouldn’t do it in the biggest race of the year.

McMurray is right, though, in saying that racing will be different. Whether that’s going to be for the better or worse has yet to be seen, but this definitely won’t be your Daddy’s Daytona anymore.

Throw out notebooks from past races and recycle the racecars.

It’s going to be a whole new ballgame starting with the 2011 Daytona 500. 

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