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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.