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Caraviello: Daytona pothole legacy lives on as Kansas set to repave

April 21, 2012, David Caraviello,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Daytona pothole's legacy lives on as Kansas is latest in spate of resurfacings

Pat Warren walked into the media center Saturday morning, his mobile phone showing an image of a tape measure next to a gap in the asphalt of his race track.

"We found this last night," the Kansas Speedway president said.

"In the end, it's fair for everyone. It's the right thing to do. We have to make sure that we don't have a track that falls apart in the middle of the race, so I can understand the logic behind it."


It was an opening in the seam between the first two lanes of the 1.5-mile speedway, a hole about five inches long by three inches wide. While inspecting the facility Friday night, track personnel had discovered what looked like a loose piece of asphalt at the apex of Turn 1. They reached down and easily pulled it out, leaving behind the gap that was later patched with an epoxy compound.

It was a small reminder of why, despite driver protests, the Kansas track will be resurfaced following Sunday's Sprint Cup event. The extreme temperature swings in this part of the Midwest have taken their toll on a 12-year-old circle of asphalt that's baked in the summertime and been buried under snow in the winter. Two years ago, track officials thought they had about five years left in the facility's original surface. Then the bottom three lanes of asphalt slid down, opening a chasm that was 50 feet long and three inches wide. To fix it, they had to drill 10 inches down and 18 inches out on either side. They were thankful it didn't occur on an event weekend.

"We couldn't have raced," Warren said. "If that happens tonight, I honestly don't know. We'd figure out a way, but there's not a good solution."

So they'll start tearing up the old asphalt on Sunday night, bringing in a National Guard tank and bulldozer to kick off the project, which they plan to have completed about two months before the track's Chase race on Oct. 21. And, yes, you look at the chunk that Warren's team pulled out of the surface on Friday, and it's easy to see why parent company International Speedway Corp. doled out money for the endeavor. But there's something else motivating the resurfacing project at Kansas -- and, indeed, all the recent resurfacing projects at ISC tracks. It goes back to Daytona International Speedway two years ago.

The pothole that interrupted the 2010 Daytona 500 has long been resigned to memory, at first patched up and then permanently submerged beneath a new coat of asphalt that now covers NASCAR's most famous speedway. But its legacy still lives, particularly within a company that most felt the sting of it and wants to make sure none of its member tracks experiences that kind of embarrassment again. Emblematic of that effort is Kansas, a place where in recent years there have been real jitters over parts of the track separating or coming up, and where no one wants to relive the kind of very public anguish that Daytona went through.

So, the pavers are rolling -- at Daytona, Phoenix, Michigan, and soon Kansas -- which is all part of an unprecedented wave of track resurfacings throughout the industry, much of it influenced by the legacy of that pothole. Now, that's not to say these projects aren't necessary; one look at the gap that developed at Kansas on Friday, and a loose rock that brings back memories of the hole punched in Jeff Gordon's radiator at Martinsville a few years back, should be enough to convince anyone that the needs are real. But, Warren will be the first to admit that within ISC, at least, memories of the Daytona pothole have made track operators less willing to sit on potential issues with their surfaces.

"I think [the Daytona pothole] certainly did. It certainly did within our company. It heightened awareness over the need to ensure that the asphalt was in a safe and raceable condition," Warren said.

"From our perspective, it's a safety issue. It's not like we're doing this to save money on maintenance. There's no way any track would ever do this unless they had to. The public relations hit is too big. The cost -- it's like painting your house and you don't get a new color. It's something you've got to do, but you don't feel real good about it when you write the check."

Among drivers who typically prefer older and rougher surfaces that help separate competitors based on skill level, it's a tough sell.

"This place is awesome. I wish they wouldn't touch it," Gordon said.

* Sound Off: Drivers on the Kansas repave

Of course, older and rougher surfaces are also more prone to breaking apart. From the driver's seat, there are no obvious issues at Kansas -- unlike at Daytona before the pothole, where Jimmie Johnson said cars came off a bump between Turns 1 and 2 so hard, and crashed down into the same spot in the pavement so regularly, that a chunk of the track coming up seemed only a matter of time. But, clearly, as the image on Warren's cell phone showed Saturday morning, a similar potential exists here.

"In the end, it's fair for everyone. It's the right thing to do," Brad Keselowski said of the looming resurfacing. "We have to make sure that we don't have a track that falls apart in the middle of the race, so I can understand the logic behind it."

So does Matt Kenseth. "I think most times the tracks get repaved because they want to get reconfigured, or because the pavement is going to fall apart," he said. "And, obviously, after the pothole in Daytona and that concrete came up at Martinsville one time, when things like that happen I think it makes everybody look at their surfaces more closely and [see] if there are going to be any problems with cracking or the track falling apart. So, I think that's what really dictates when the tracks get paved and when they don't get paved."

The pothole, Warren said, "lowered the risk tolerance" for tracks with aging surfaces. That's certainly the case at Kansas, where no one wants to see a repeat of what happened at Daytona two years ago, and experience a track failure while under the bright spotlight of a Cup event.

Now, what if the pothole at Daytona had stayed down in its burrow, never to surface? Would we still be seeing repaving projects on the same scale that are unfolding now? Given the age of some of the track surfaces involved, Warren believes something similar occurring was only a matter of time.

"What I don't know is, if Daytona hadn't happened, would something have happened at Phoenix?" he asked. "Because something was going to happen somewhere, and that was going to elevate the issue to everybody."

Saturday, at Kansas, that much was evident.

About an hour after informing reporters of the gap that had opened up in the track the day before, Warren returned to the media center with the loose chunk of asphalt itself -- which was photographed like it was a moon rock. The pothole at Daytona is gone, hopefully forever. But at places like Kansas, which will wear a new coast of asphalt when the NASCAR circuit returns here in the fall, its legacy still endures.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.