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Rain stops, track drying begins at Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - NASCAR's premier event, the season-opening Daytona 500, is being delayed by rain.

Although heavy showers have stopped and numerous jet driers are pushing water off Daytona International Speedway, radar shows more storm cells moving toward the high-banked track.

"Radar is not our friend right now," NASCAR executive Steve O'Donnell wrote on his Twitter feed. "Still drying, but looking ominous. If we get hit again, it does not look good."

Rain saturated the famed speedway earlier Sunday, sending 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. Former Daytona 500 winners Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne did in-studio interviews with Fox.

"Obviously, you want to go race," driver AJ Allmendinger said. "We get to race when we race. I know it (stinks) for the people sitting out there because they've got to sit in the rain. But for us, we go in here and we have pushup contests, we eat a lot of food and we have a good time."

Few others were enjoying the dreary day.

"Man this rain delay is a killer!" Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted on Twitter. "First (hash)Daytona500 is on hold."

NASCAR officials intend to wait as long as possible in hopes of getting the 500-mile race in Sunday. NASCAR says Fox is committed to broadcasting the event, even it means going head to head with the NBA All-Star game and the Oscars.

The last shortened Daytona 500 was Matt Kenseth's 2009 victory, 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 pesky pothole in the surface. Jamie McMurray held off Earnhardt Jr. to win that race.

The season opener is NASCAR's most prestigious event, and this one comes with several intriguing story lines for a racing series trying to capitalize on the success of last season's captivating championship race.

Danica Patrick will make her Daytona 500 debut once the race begins, and it will be the first of 10 scheduled Sprint Cup Series events this season. She left IndyCar behind for a full-time move to NASCAR and will race for the Nationwide Series championship driving for JR Motorsports.

She arrived at the pre-race driver meeting Sunday with three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, the owner of her Cup car. Stewart is trying to snap an 0-for-13 losing streak in NASCAR's biggest race of the year.

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. On the pole will be Carl Edwards, who lost the championship to Stewart last season on a tie-breaker when Stewart won the season finale at Homestead.

Dale 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.

Rain could put it all on hold _ and leave NASCAR with a small spotlight.

"It's one of those days here in Daytona where it pops up and falls off and pops up and falls off," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "But as the day progresses, we think the chances of the pop-ups diminish quite a bit. Hopefully this will be the last big cell we see and things will start falling apart and we can get the track dry and go on and get finish and run the Daytona 500 today."

The track takes about two and a half hours to dry, and the race usually takes four hours. So officials are doing the math while keeping an eye on the radar. No Daytona 500 has ever been postponed.

"We are equipped," Helton said. "The Daytona International Speedway has every drying piece of machinery they got across the country here today, because we know that the fans at home and the fans here in Daytona want to see the race run. We do, too. The sooner, the better."

The forecast calls for intermittent showers most of the afternoon, and even worse weather is on tap for Monday.

"I got a feeling this is going to be a long day," driver David Ragan posted on Twitter. "I really feel bad for the fans that are soaking wet. I am going to make a grocery store run."

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