By JEFF WOLFE
It was a lot of hurrying up and waiting for NASCAR drivers, officials and fans Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. The 54th Running of the Daytona 500 was scheduled to take place, but the only thing consistently running on the track was rain water trickling down the 31 degree banking in the turns of the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
It was the first time that the race has been delayed a full day by rain. It is rescheduled to start at Noon Monday, that is if the weather holds out. The forecast doesn’t look that promising for Monday either, with an 80 percent chance of rain for the Daytona area. In fact, instead of Monday Night Football, there very well could be some Monday Night NASCAR. But that remains to be seen.
What everyone at the track saw Sunday was a lot clouds and a lot of rain.
“We attempted our best to try to get the track dry,” said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. “It seemed like every time we got close, another pocket of rain showed up. We waited as long as we could in terms of the process, how long it might take to dry the track, and what was reasonable in terms of our fans staying and enjoying the event.”
Chitwood has stated earlier in the day that he would be willing to run a night race, but once the rains came at about 5:15, it would have taken too long to dry out the track and have the race finish at a respectable time, even if it had not rained again.
“Once that happened, we made the decision we would not be able to get the track dry to have an event tonight that would work,” Chitwood said.
Fans and drivers were left with nothing to do but wait in or watch the rain all day.
“This is one of the toughest things for us drivers,” said Carl Edwards, who is scheduled to start on the pole Monday. “But, I think we’ll be just fine. They’ve been living right to have 53 of these and never have one postponed. That’s pretty spectacular.”
Along with fans, Edwards and apparently other drivers hope the wait is worth it.
“We’ll come race tomorrow,” he said. “I think everyone is really excited about this race. All the drivers I’ve spoken with, you know, the fans, this is going to be a very good Daytona 500. I think NASCAR, they’re doing the right thing, you know, not dragging this out. Everybody knows we’ll be racing tomorrow during the day. It will be a good event. Just hopefully that weather will hold off and we won’t be in this same position again tomorrow.”
And that could well happen again. That 80 percent chance of showers calls for showers early and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Then for a 40 percent chance of showers in the evening.
That means a Tuesday race is not of the realm of possibility. But, it wasn’t a possibility Chitwood III wanted to consider Sunday night.
“It’s tough to even talk Tuesday until we get into tomorrow,” he said. “I think the plan with a noon start, I think there is inclement weather in the a.m., but by noon, it looks like the weather is better. We’ll play it out best we can.’’
If the rain is an issue again, Chitwood said the plan will be to wait it out again.
“We’ll wait till the last possible minute that we would not run the race,” he said. “We want to exhaust every opportunity of getting the track dry and running the race. I would anticipate 5 or 6 (o’clock) if there was rain on the track, you will see us play out some decisions. I don’t even want to talk about Tuesday right now.’’
One thing NASCAR officials will likely talk about for Monday is an early yellow as the rain will have washed the track clean of a week’s worth of tire wear. It would allow teams to check for tire wear issues early in the race.
“I think NASCAR will have a competition caution,” Edwards said. “We’ll get to look at the tires. Hopefully, there won’t be any trouble. We didn’t see any trouble in the Gatorade race or the Shootout.”
And in case anyone is looking for any kind of karma in this rainout, the first Chase for the Championship to be pushed to a Monday was last Sept. 18 at Chicagoland. Tony Stewart went on to win the next day. Stewart will be making his 14th attempt to win his first Daytona 500 when the race starts, whenever that might be.