Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon was waxing nostalgic on Tuesday about the final race on the old pavement at Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile, high-banked oval.
Just hours after the 43-car field for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night gets the checkered flag, construction workers will begin tearing up the track that came under severe criticism in February when a huge pothole halted racing for more than three hours at the Daytona 500.
But with the new pavement, all of the characteristics — bumps, undulations, worn asphalt — that made Daytona such a challenge to a driver’s skill will disappear.
“That old pavement — how it wears, what it does to the tires, how the cars drive on it and how you have to drive it as a driver — is the best,” Gordon, who holds the record for most all-time restrictor plate victories with 12 between Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, said. “We’re going to miss that old pavement.”
Gordon said that the pothole problem in February wasn’t so bad that the whole track needed a facelift.
He called it a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“Other than the problem with it coming up like it did during the 500, that’s what you want everywhere you race,” he said. “New pavement just doesn’t wear out the tires like old pavement. When we come back here for Speedweeks (in 2011), it’s going to be a totally different Daytona. This weekend, we’re going to try to take advantage of the old pavement, enjoy it as much as we can, and slip and slide around here like we normally do in July.”
Gordon’s feelings for the Daytona, he grew up racing on, isn’t shared by everyone in the Sprint Cup garage. In fact, it isn’t even shared by his own teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson, for one, can’t wait to test out the new smoother Daytona next season in his No. 48 Chevrolet.
“The asphalt is done,” Johnson said. “It’s time to repave it. So, from the criticism Daytona took when the pothole came up at the 500, they don’t have a choice. It is going to change the racing a lot. I would assume the bumps will go away, and the asphalt will have a lot of grip at first.”
And Dale Earnhardt Jr. certainly doesn’t share any of Gordon’s sentimentality when it comes to the Florida track.
“The old surface was kinda getting past its prime,” Earnhardt said. “The sooner we get a new surface down, it can get some weather on it and the sooner we get a new race track everybody wants.”
The new paving will mark the second resurfacing of the track since it opened in its current configuration back in 1958. The last repaving job came in 1978.
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