DAYTONA BEACH — Kyle Busch's wicked wreck in Saturday's Xfinity race prompted a quick and self-critical reaction from the Daytona International Speedway.
"The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today," said speedway president Joie Chitwood III. "We should have had a SAFER barrier there. We did not. We are going to fix that problem right now."
Busch was knocked out of the Daytona 500 when his Toyota slid through the infield grass and hit an inside wall. He was taken to Halifax Hospital. Busch sustained a compound fracture of his right lower leg and a left mid-foot fracture, and is expected to be out five to six months. Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Matt Crafton would drive the No. 18 car in the 500.
"Kyle Busch is a key member of our Toyota NASCAR family and it goes without saying that everyone at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), U.S.A. has Kyle in their thoughts and prayers," Ed Laukes, Vice President marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales, said in a statement. "Kyle is as tough a competitor as you'll find in motorsports and I'm confident he'll recover quickly and return to the track with an even greater passion to win. We know fellow Toyota driver Matt Crafton will represent not only Toyota, but Joe Gibbs Racing well in today's Daytona 500."
The inside wall was not cushioned with the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier. That triggered a social-media outcry questioning why NASCAR does not require all walls to be cushioned.
Daytona International Speedway is in the middle of a $400-million renovation. The SAFER barriers cost $500 a foot.
"I don't want to say anything wrong, but we're to the point in NASCAR where there should be SAFER barriers everywhere," Ty Dillon said after he finished third in the race. "I think we can afford it."
Chitwood said the track would immediately install tire packs along the 850-foot wall section where Busch crashed.
"This is not going to happen again," Chitwood said.
Kurt Busch suspension upheld
After getting suspended Friday, Kurt Busch spent Saturday getting rejected.
A three-judge NASCAR panel upheld the indefinite suspension handed down in the wake of a domestic-abuse finding against Busch. Busch's lawyers then took the case to final appeals officer Brian Moss, who considered the appeal Saturday night and also upheld the suspension.
Even if Moss were to have overturned the suspension, Stewart-Haas Racing previously had announced that Regan Smith would replace Busch in the No. 41 car for the Daytona 500. Chevrolet had suspended its relationship with Busch on Friday.
A Delaware judge's report released Friday concluded that Busch likely choked and hit his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, in a dispute last September.
It was an eventful and ironic day for Regan Smith, the 2008 Cup Rookie of the Year. Kurt Busch replaced him on the Furniture Row Racing team after the 2012 season.
So Smith raced mostly in the Nationwide Series the past two season, finishing second and third in point standings those years. After the pit crew used black tape to cover Busch's name above the car window, Smith drove 13 laps in Saturday's Sprint Car practice session.
"The fortunate thing is I've done enough Cup races where I'm familiar with most of their cars," Smith said. "They have changed a little bit over the years. The drafting is similar from the Xfinity cars to Sprint cars, so that's not a big adjustment."
Smith then entered the Xfinity race and flipped his car during a 12-car wreck with 27 laps remaining. He was not injured.
Smith's wife is expecting the couple's first child in two weeks. If she goes into labor on Sunday, her husband said he'd get back to their Charlotte home as soon as he gets off work.
"I've asked her to keep her legs crossed as long as she can," Smith said.
Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap during Saturday's practice session. The times were largely irrelevant because drivers use the session to fine-tune their cars for Sunday's Daytona 500, but Hamlin recorded a lap of 202.106 mph.
After winning the two Budweiser Duels on Thursday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson didn't clock times in the top 25. Eight of the 43 drivers did not practice Saturday.
Barring something very strange, Daytona 500 spectators should be heading home much sooner than last year. The weather forecast is sunny and warm, with almost no chance of isolated showers.
Rain plagued last year's race and suspended action for six-and-a-half hours.