DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a vicious hit Saturday into a concrete wall during the Xfinity Series race. He’ll miss the Daytona 500 on Sunday and is out indefinitely.
Busch sustained a right lower leg compound fracture and left mid-foot fracture in the crash with eight laps remaining. Joe Gibbs Racing said he was undergoing surgery on his right leg.
Matt Crafton, a two-time Truck Series champion, will replace Busch in the No. 18 Toyota on Sunday in the season-opening Sprint Cup Series race. It will be Crafton’s Daytona 500 debut.
Busch’s injury occurred when his car slammed head-on into an interior wall that did not have an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier. It’s a similar injury 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.
A somber Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, said the track failed in not having the soft walls and will start next week on having them installed “on every inch of our property.”
“The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today. We should have had SAFER barrier there,” Chitwood said. “We’re going to fix that. We’re going to fix that right now.”
Track officials will install tire packs along that 850-foot linear square foot of wall that Busch hit in time for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Chitwood said planning on covering the entire 2.5-mile facility would begin Monday.
“This is not going to happen again. We’re going to live up to our responsibility,” Chitwood said. “We really can’t mention financials as a reason for this. Come Monday, we’re going to start the plan to put SAFER barrier everywhere here and finances don’t come into play. That’s really not a question.”
Following the hit, Busch was only able to climb 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.
As Busch was being treated in a hospital, older brother Kurt was in front of NASCAR’s final appeals officer trying to get his indefinite suspension lifted.
Even if Busch wins the appeal, his Stewart-Haas Racing team appeared set to use Regan Smith in the Daytona 500 – meaning the race would go on without one of the Busch brothers for the first time since 2000.
Ryan Reed won the 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 only install SAFER barriers 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.
Reaction was swift after Busch’s wreck on social media from drivers calling on NASCAR to install the energy-absorbing material everywhere at race tracks.
“It’s beyond me why we don’t have soft walls everywhere,” tweeted six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
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.”
And Smith, who earlier in the race rolled his car for the first time in his career, said it was inexcusable in 2015 for tracks hosting national events not to have SAFER barriers everywhere.
“I’m genuinely furious right now,” tweeted Smith, the driver who will replace Kurt Busch in the Daytona 500.
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said the series will accelerate talks with all tracks in the series about the installation of additional SAFER barriers.
“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 said.