“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,” Biffle said.
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. McMurray held off 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.