DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Daytona 500 has been postponed for the first time in its 54-year history.
NASCAR postponed The Great American Race after heavy rain saturated Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
Officials spent more than four hours waiting for a window to dry the famed track, but it never came. And when the latest storm cell passed over the speedway, they had little choice but to call it a day and reschedule.
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 may 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.
"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 turn in tomorrow."
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 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 will have to deal with the downside of moving its biggest race. Ratings and attendance will suffer, and its showcase event won't get the audience the series expected.
The opener will feature several intriguing story lines for a racing series trying 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.
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.
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.