Daytona 500 set for on-time start after track repairs made

1:51 PM, Feb 24, 2013   |    comments
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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood confirmed on Sunday morning that repairs to the racetrack's catchfence have been completed and the Daytona 500 is scheduled to start on time.

Chitwood gave an update on the repair efforts following a horrifying crash that occurred on the frontstretch during the final lap of Saturday's 300-mile Nationwide Series race, injuring at least 28 spectators in the grandstands. Chitwood once again noted that 14 race fans who were injured had to be transported to nearby Halifax Health Medical Center as well as other hospitals in the Daytona Beach area. Fourteen others were treated at the racetrack's infield medical care center for minor injuries.

Chitwood was not able to give medical updates on any of the victims. Two spectators were critically injured and several others were seriously hurt. Most of those treated at area hospitals were released later that night.

"I just want to reiterated how important our fans are to us, and we will continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers," Chitwood said during a press conference. "We had our guest services team dispatched over to Halifax and other medical institutions last night. We helped all of those who were released from medical care to get reunited with family and friends."

Track personnel completed their work on the fence in the early morning hours. Repairs immediately began after the crash occurred.

"From an operations perspective, we met with NASCAR at 8 a.m. (ET) and reviewed all of the repairs that we made last night," Chitwood said. "We worked late into the evening and are prepared to go racing today. From the fencing that we repaired, we did not put the gate back in. We just have a straight fence there, and that was based on the timing of being ready to run the Daytona 500 today."

The last-lap accident, involving 12 cars, happened when Brad Keselowski hit Regan Smith from behind and spun him into the wall on the tri-oval, which triggered the wreck. Rookie Kyle Larson flipped around and sailed into the catchfence before coming back down on the track. Flying debris from both Larson's car and the fence struck dozens of fans in the grandstands.

The front end of Larson's Chevrolet was ripped apart after it tore a gaping hole in the catchfence. The engine and one of the tires sheared off of his car and lodged in the fencing. Another tire from his vehicle flew over the catchfence, which is 22 feet high, and landed in the upper deck of the grandstands.

"I think for the most part the (Nationwide) car held up and the tethers held up, but we can always learn when a car gets up into the fence," NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell said on Sunday. "That's something we got to take back and analyze everything that we can."

NASCAR has already begun its investigation of the incident. The sanctioning body continues to work on its safety initiatives for both the competitors and the fans in attendance at races.

"We've worked closely together with the racetrack, and we're confident with the repairs that were put in place," O'Donnell said. "It will be an on-going process for us with the racetrack. We've got a (research and development) center in Concord, North Carolina that specializes in looking at things like this. We'll bring in the best and brightest and anything that we can learn will be put in place."

With no immediate threat of rain in the area, the Daytona 500 is scheduled to start shortly after 1 p.m. ET. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms here during the afternoon.

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