While most other NASCAR drivers and teams won’t see the finished Daytona Rising project for another few weeks when they come down to Florida for Speedweeks, several of those competing in the Jan. 29-30 Rolex 24 got a sneak preview of the “new” Daytona International Speedway this week.
Not surprisingly, the reactions were all positive.
“It’s definitely taller and bigger for sure,’ ” driver Kyle Larson said Friday during a Rolex 24 media session. “When we come back in a couple weeks, and I have some time to spend in a day, I’d like to go up into the stands and see the breezeway and stuff like that.
“I’ve heard that’s really, really spectacular. Once I get on the other side of the racetrack other than being in the infield, I’ll see all the changes and how cool they are.’ ”
Larson and Sprint Cup teammate Jamie McMurray will team with 2015 IndyCar champ Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the No. 02 Ford for owner Chip Ganassi, which won last year’s Rolex 24.
McMurray was quite effusive at what he saw when he pulled into the DIS infield.
“When I was driving in, you can see how big the grandstands are,” McMurray told reporters. “I didn’t quite get how big that was going to be from (a photo he previously had seen of the completed project).
“Also, from just being here in July, the stands weren’t up yet. First thing you notice is there are no backstretch stands; which is odd. But when you look at how big the frontstretch is, it’s pretty cool.”
DIS President Joie Chitwood III has referred to the $400 million renovation — the biggest change in the track’s history since it first opened in 1959 — as creating the world’s first “motorsports stadium,” something McMurray concurs with.
“To go outside the track and look in, it doesn’t look like a racetrack, it looks like a stadium,” he said. “It’s really cool. They did an awesome job on that.”
Ganassi has seen quite a bit in his 30-plus years as a racer and team owner. It takes a lot to impress him. But suffice to say he’s definitely impressed with the new Daytona.
“When you first hear they spent $400 million, your initial reaction as a racer is, ‘Oh my goodness, surely they didn’t spend 400 million dollars,’ ” Ganassi said. “And then you see the work that’s been done, you’re looking at the grandstands and if you have a chance to see what’s behind the grandstand and what’s underneath it — it looks like they spent $800 million.
“It’s really something, really first-class, really, really done right. I think it’s going to take our sport to a new level in terms of amenities and what the fans can expect. It’s going to put pressure on the other tracks.
“This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks in terms of amenities. It’s what you see at the finest NFL stadiums and NHL arenas. And it’s money spent for the fans. I couldn’t be happier for what it’s going to do for our fans and for our sport. People are going to be talking about their experience as a fan at Daytona.”