Kyle Busch might now be a reluctant ambassador for safety in NASCAR, but he understands that’s probably what he’s become and the importance of that role.
“I’ve never wanted to be an advocate of spearheading safety initially,” said Busch. “But it seems like I’ve take on that role with the injuries I had.”
Busch was speaking Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 Sprint Cup race. It was also where Busch was severely injured in February during an Xfinity during a crash into a Daytona wall that wasn’t lined with a SAFER barrier.
Since then, Daytona has added more soft walls to the track and also paved over a grassy area on which Busch slid before his Toyota smacked the wall, race, breaking his right leg and left foot. Also, International Speedway Corp. announced Saturday it is adding about 54,000 linear feet to its 13 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks (including Daytona) through the end of the 2016 season.
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“I wouldn’t say I feel safe now,” said Busch. “But I’m certainly grateful that the tracks continue to work on the evolution of safety. Through the years, they’ve done that through our seats and the HANS device. And I’m grateful that Daytona was as compassionate as they were that they wanted to do everything in their power to fix things and make it first class.
“I think they’ve done that, but there’s always room for improvement. They need to step up their efforts everywhere at all tracks.”
Busch missed the first 11 races of the Cup season with his injuries. Despite his long absence, NASCAR granted Busch a waiver to be eligible for the Chase, allowing him to compete for a spot despite not competing in every race of the season.
When Busch won last week at Sonoma – his fifth race back – he completed the first requirement of making the Chase. His second task is finishing in the top 30 in points. At 37th, he’s 136 points out of 30th.
So he came to Daytona feeling hopeful, if a little uncertain about returning to the track where he took such a hard hit five months ago. Then, just a few minutes into Friday’s first practice, Busch spun after being tapped on his bumper by Brad Keselowski, causing an accident that collected several other cars.
“I wanted to get out there and make some laps on a long run,” said Busch. “I wanted to get the tires to wear out and slide around. We never got that far, so that’s a bit disappointing.”
Instead, Busch will start at the rear of the field in a backup car.
Busch said he is glad one of the safety measures taken by Daytona was paving over the grass in the spot where he wrecked in February. He understands that most other tracks have grass for aesthetic and drainage purposes, but wants them all paved over, as they are at tracks such as Bristol (Tenn.) and Darlington (S.C).
“I’ve never seen a car flip over because it’s gone through a puddle, but I guess that could happen,” said Busch. “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. 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 that beating and banging around inside that race car. It does not feel good.”
Busch sounded like a pretty effective advocate for safety.
“I don’t know that I’ve necessarily taken the leadership role in safety as much as some other drivers have,” said Busch, adding that Ryan Newman and former driver Jeff Burton have already taken that role. “As far as being proactive, these race tracks know what needs to happen. It’s not a secret. It’s not us drivers telling them where we’d like to see a wall. It’s taking a survey by driving around a race track and looking at different ways that a race car may happen to hit that wall. It’s not rocket science. It just needs to happen.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14