Kyle Busch misses Daytona 500; Matt Crafton named replacement
Kyle Busch will miss Sunday’s Daytona 500 following a hard crash in the closing laps of Saturday’s Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
Busch was caught up in a 10-car crash near the end of the frontstretch on Lap 112 of the 120-lap event, his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota careening head-on into a section of infield wall that had no SAFER barrier.
After the crash, Busch was transported directly to Halifax Health Medical Center of Daytona Beach where it was determined he suffered a compound fracture of the right lower leg. Additionally, Busch suffered a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in the accident. His injuries will sideline him for an undetermined period of time, JGR officials announced Saturday night.
Busch underwent a "successful" surgery on his lower right leg Saturday night and planned to remain in the hospital for observation, according to a JGR team release. Two-time Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton will serve as the interim driver for Busch’s No. 18 Toyota during Sunday’s 57th Daytona 500. An interim driver has not been determined for the following race on March 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, or any future races.
Busch’s car hit a portion of the wall that was not covered in the protective SAFER barrier. NASCAR drivers criticized the track on Twitter for not having the safety barriers on the concrete wall.
"Man I hope (at)KyleBusch is alright… It’s beyond me why we don’t have soft walls everywhere," six-time champion Jimmie Johnson tweeted.
"I’m genuinely furious right now. Any wall in any of the top 3 series without safer barriers is INEXCUSABLE. It’s 2015," Regan Smith wrote.
Xfinity Series driver Ty Dillon said after the race no driver should have any "crazy, bad" injuries because a track did not have additional SAFER barriers.
At 8:15 p.m. ET, Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III and NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell met with the media and confirmed steps will be taken to rectify the problem.
"The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today," Chitwood said. "We should have had a SAFER barrier there, and we did not. We’re going to fix that. We’re going to fix that right now."
Track workers began installing tire packs along the section of wall hit by Busch Saturday evening, and Chitwood vowed to go further to cover "every inch" of the speedway with SAFER barriers.
"This is not going to happen again," he said. "We’re going to live up to our responsibility. We’re going to fix this, and it starts right now."
O’Donnell echoed Chitwood’s comments.
"What happened tonight should not have happened,"O’Donnell said. "That’s on us we’re going to fix it and we’re going to fix it immediately. … I think we all know racing is an inherintly dangerous sport, but our priority is safety and we’ll continue to put things in place to make this sport as safe as possible."
Busch’s injury is similar to the one suffered by Tony Stewart in an August 2013 sprint car crash, but not as severe as Stewart’s was a double compound fracture.
Stewart missed the final 15 races of 2013, couldn’t get in a race car until February 2014, and underwent a fourth surgery in December to replace the rod in his leg. He walked with a limp for more than a year.
Following the hit, Busch was able to climb only halfway through his window and was pointing in the direction of his right leg when rescue personnel arrived.
Busch was pulled from the car and laid on the ground, and his leg appeared to be stabilized in a splint before he was placed on a stretcher then into an ambulance. His wife, Samantha, was crying as she left the infield care center with team owner Joe Gibbs and team president J.D. Gibbs. Samantha Busch is pregnant with the couple’s first child, a boy due in May.
Busch was transported to a hospital, and NASCAR announced roughly an hour later that Busch won’t participate Sunday in the Sprint Cup Series’ season-opening Daytona 500.
Neither will Busch’s older brother Kurt, whose final appeal of his indefinite suspension was denied Saturday night. Kurt Busch was suspended Friday night after Kent County (Del.) Commissioner David Jones ruled that “it is more likely than not” that Busch “committed an act of abuse” against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll during a dispute Sept. 26, 2014 at Dover International Speedway.
Ryan Reed won Saturday’s race, his first career national series victory, in the debut event for Xfinity as sponsor of NASCAR’s second-tier series.
Reed, the 21-year-old driver for Roush Fenway Racing, passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on the last lap to grab the win. Diagnosed four years ago with Type 1 diabetes, Reed thanked sponsor Eli Lilly, which runs a "Drive to Stop Diabetes" campaign.
"I thought I would never drive a race car again. Now, I’m standing here in victory lane at Daytona with Roush Fenway," he said. "Not only for me and my family, but every kid who gets diagnosed with diabetes or anything that says you can’t do something. Just go and there and overcome it and do it and win and do the best you can."
But the focus was on Busch’s injury, which occurred when his car slid fast through the grass and slammed into a wall that did not have the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers that were one of the many safety initiatives that came about after Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001. The SAFER Barrier debuted in 2002 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The walls were developed by Dr. Dean Sicking at the University of Nebraska and are currently installed in some form at every track used by NASCAR’s top series.
The barriers, a combination of steel and foam, cost about $500 a foot which can be a hefty bill at a 2.5-mile superspeedway like Daytona. The soft walls absorb the energy during impact and lessen injuries sustained to a driver.
Tracks install SAFER barriers only where NASCAR recommends to them they should be placed. NASCAR, meanwhile, cites evaluations of high-impact areas in deciding where the material should be placed.
Former driver Jeff Burton, now a television analyst, called on NASCAR to overcome costs, "It’s very expensive but we have to find a way."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.