Kyle Busch found one of the remaining hard barriers on a NASCAR track that isn't covered by an impact absorbing SAFER barrier during today's Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Busch hit the concrete wall inside Turn 1, suffering a right lower leg compound fracture and left mid-foot fracture from the impact.
Busch is currently undergoing surgery for injuries sustained to his right leg. He was transported to Halifax Medical Center shortly after the accident.
Unfortunately, this means that Kyle Busch will miss the Sprint Cup Series' Daytona 500 tomorrow. There hasn't been a Daytona 500 without a Busch brother since 2000. Despite being a 29-time Sprint Cup race winner, Busch has yet to win the Daytona 500.
According to NASCAR, Matt Crafton will fill in for Busch and drive his number 18 M&Ms Toyota. Crafton is a two-time defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, but has yet to start in a Sprint Cup race throughout his career. Kyle Busch was supposed to start fourth in Sunday's race, however, the driver change means that the number 18 car will start from the back of the field.
The injury will mean he will miss additional races in the future, but the team has not named a interim driver for beyond the Daytona 500.
While fans and participants alike were wondering why there was a non-impact-absorbing hard barrier facing the track in the first place, Daytona International Speedway is taking immediate action with that stretch of wall. Track president Joie Chitwood III took full responsibility for Busch's injuries on behalf of the track following the accident.
"Our thoughts and prayers go to Kyle," said Chitwood in a press conference, as quoted by Motorsport.com. "The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today. We should have had a SAFER Barrier there today and we did not. We're going to fix that. We're going to fix that right now."
Chitwood vows that the track will now cover "every inch" of barrier with impact-absorbing SAFER barriers. As for now, tire packs are being installed on the 850-foot-long wall Busch hit to hold over until SAFER barriers can be installed.
SAFER stands for "Steel and Foam Energy Reduction." This wall design (as far as its use in NASCAR goes) was one result from the safety initiatives that came after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001.
According to Motorsport.com, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell also took blame for the lack of SAFER barriers at Daytona. He explained:
What happened tonight should not have happened, that's on us. I think we all know that racing is an inherently dangerous sport, but our priority is safety and we'll continue to put things in place that make this sport as safe as possible.
O'Donnell also claimed that tonight's accident will accelerate talks with other tracks about installing proper modern barriers. Tracks, as opposed to NASCAR themselves, are responsible for funding the installation of SAFER barriers.
Neither official tried to make excuses about the proper SAFER barriers being cost-prohibitive.
"For us, we can't really look at financials as a reason for this," explained Chitwood, as quoted by Motorsport.com. "We have to have a venue which we can put on NASCAR racing and have competitors be safe."
According to Autoweek, SAFER barriers cost $500 a foot to install. NASCAR blogger TheOrangeCone estimates that it would be $5 million to upgrade the barriers at Daytona International Speedway—a mere 0.125% of the cost of the "Daytona Rising" upgrades to stands and other facilities. [Edit: As pointed out in the comments, TOC's numbers were off for comedy's sake. It's more like 1.25%, but even then, that's a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost.]
Drivers were furious that there wasn't already a SAFER barrier in place there. Among the outraged was Regan Smith, who flipped in spectacular fashion during today's race. Here's a sampling of tweets made after the accident:
Kyle Larson came close to hitting the same wall during the Xfinity race tonight, which goes to show that it's not just a freak occurrence.
It's definitely a wall that needs an absorbent barrier of some sort.
Here is the video of Kyle Busch's wall hit. (Fair warning: it definitely looks painful.)
Other drivers, including Denny Hamlin in 2013 and Jeff Gordon in 2011, have had similar accidents involving hard barriers in the recent past.
Photo credit: Getty Images
[Edit: I originally wasn't clear about 2001 being the impetus for NASCAR's adoption of the SAFER barriers. IRL actually started the initial development of the barriers, not NASCAR. Captain Pedantic, AWAY! posted a more thorough history of the barriers' research and development here.]