NASCAR postpones Daytona 500 for first time ever
Daytona Beach (Florida) (AP): NASCAR has raced on the beach at Daytona, under the lights and even around a pesky pothole.
But never on a Monday — until now.
The Daytona 500 was postponed Sunday for the first time in its 54-year history after heavy rain saturated Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR officials spent more than four hours waiting for a window to dry the famed track, but it never came. When the latest storm cell passed over the speedway around 5 p.m., they had little choice but to call it a day.
The 500-mile race was rescheduled for noon Monday. It will be aired on Fox.
"This is one of the toughest things for us drivers," pole-sitter Carl Edwards said. "It`s now who can really stay focused. That`s not just the drivers, that`s the pit crews, the crew chiefs, everyone, the officials. But I think we`ll be just fine."
But Monday might be another test for both drivers and fans.
The forecast calls for more rain, and officials are prepared to wait all day and into the night to avoid a Tuesday race, which would strain teams that must get to Phoenix for next week`s race.
"The longer runway we have tomorrow to get in the Daytona 500, the greater the likelihood for us to start and finish the event on Monday," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "There are certainly a lot of considerations that go into the start time decision, and we believe scheduling it for noon gives us the best opportunity for us to get the race in tomorrow."
Eight previous Daytona 500s have endured rain delays, the latest in 2009. But never before had storms forced NASCAR`s premier event to be moved.
"I think that`s a pretty good record for NASCAR," Edwards said. "They`ve been living right to have 53 of these and never have one postponed. That`s pretty spectacular. ... I think NASCAR, they`re doing the right thing, you know, not dragging this out."
Noontime showers sent fans scattering for cover and leaving everyone in wait-and-see mode. Puddles of water formed in parts of the infield, and many fans got drenched as they tried to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.
Drivers retreated to their motorhomes, relaxing while keeping an eye on developments. Edwards, Brad Keselowski and others took naps. Former Daytona 500 winners Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne did in-studio interviews with Fox. Another previous race winner, Ryan Newman, played with his daughter in the motorhome lot.
"I guess I`m gonna have to win the first Monday Daytona 500," driver Greg Biffle said. "As you can tell, I`m still in my uniform because I was optimistic that this weather was gonna get out of here and we were going to get this thing going. But I`ll have to save my energy for tomorrow.
"I know a lot of race fans are disappointed and a lot of people at home on TV, but we just hope they tune in tomorrow."
The last shortened Daytona 500 was Matt Kenseth`s victory three years ago, when rain stopped the event 48 laps from the finish. He was declared the winner while the cars were parked on pit road.
The 2010 race had more than two hours in delays as NASCAR twice stopped the event to fix a pothole in the surface. Jamie McMurray held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win that race.
This time around, drivers didn`t even get in their cars.
"I didn`t know when to eat. I didn`t know when to rest. I didn`t know what to do," Bobby Labonte said. "I never took my uniform off. I took a nap. I think we cleaned out the refrigerator snacking on things."
Now, NASCAR must deal with the downside of moving its biggest race. Ratings and attendance will suffer, falling short of what the series expected.
Fans surely will have complaints, too.
Daytona president Joie Chitwood said he understood fans were frustrated about the scheduling change that pushed the race back one week later than usual. NASCAR and the track made the decision to move the start of the season to address an awkward early off weekend and to avoid potential conflicts with the Super Bowl.
Had the race been run on its traditional Sunday, it would have been completed under a bright, blue sky.
"I`m sure I`m going to have some customers tell me about the date change and the challenges that we have with it," Chitwood said. "But I think weather is unpredictable. I think based on the NASCAR schedule, the TV schedule on whole, this was the right move for the industry. We`ll continue to work with the last weekend of February.
"It`s unfortunate that this had to happen the first year after we made that change. I`m sure I`ll be talking to a number of customers in the next weeks ahead about that situation."
Chitwood also said trying to wait out the rain any longer Sunday wasn`t an option, because the Daytona 500 deserves better than being crammed into the late evening hours.
Pointing to several intriguing story lines, NASCAR was hoping to capitalize on the success of last season`s captivating championship race.
The Daytona 500 is the first of 10 scheduled Sprint Cup Series events this season for Danica Patrick, who left IndyCar behind for a full-time move to NASCAR. She will race for the Nationwide Series championship driving for JR Motorsports.
Three-time and defending NASCAR champion Tony Stewart is trying to snap an 0-for-13 losing streak in the 500. Stewart`s 17 victories at Daytona include everything but the 500, ranking him second on the all-time list behind the late Dale Earnhardt`s 34 wins. Stewart will start third when the race goes green.
Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champion, takes a 129-race losing streak into the event. His last victory was in 2008, his first season with powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.