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Start of 54th Daytona 500 pushed back to 7 p.m.

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  February 27, 2012 10:50 AM

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --- After the 54th Daytona 500 was postponed by rain Sunday, track officials announced today the expected noon start would be pushed back to 7 p.m. to provide for a better opportunity to stage the 200-lap race while allowing for a band of showers to clear the area.

NASCAR president Mike Helton and Daytona track president Joie Chitwood III huddled with its broadcast partners and weather experts and came to the decision to shift to a later start to avoid having fans wait all day in the rain before the start of the race.

54thDaytona500.jpg

Although NASCAR Sprint Cup teams were already facing a logistical nightmare of having to travel cross-country with little time to spare to make the next race at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend, Helton did not rule out holding the Daytona 500 on Tuesday as an option.

"We're focused on today and this afternoon right now,'' Helton said. "But, just so everyone knows, Tuesday is an option before we'd have to reconsider packing up and leaving. But tomorrow is an option.''

Forecasts were calling for up to 80 percent chance of rain this afternoon.

``Based on the weather forecast that everybody has convinced us of from here through mid afternoon, 60, 70, 80 percent chances of rain, we're going to wait in announcing right now that the effort to run the Daytona is now shifting from noon until 7:00 p.m.,'' Helton said this morning in a joint press conference with Chitwood. ``So we hope to have `Lady and gentlemen, start your engines,' at 7:02 and then warm up and go to green flag.

"We believe this is a reasonable expectation, and we also believe in a modern world with the technology that we have to interpret weather, forecast it and try to stay on top of it within a reasonable amount of time,'' Helton said, "that having everyone sit around and wait for several hours today up until the point where we're confident or have more confidence that we can run the race was more prudent to do it this way.''

WWE star John Cena, a native of West Newbury, Mass., who as scheduled to serve as the honorary starter of the race, had agreed to handle pre-race duties as grand marshal and give the starting command after Jane Lynch and Kate Upton, co-stars of the upcoming movie ``Three Stooges,'' were forced to pull out after Sunday's postponement.

Cena, however, was forced to pull out as well when the start was pushed back to 7 p.m.

"His schedule will not allow him to continue so he will depart,'' Chitwood said.

Update, 1:02 p.m. Jet dryers have been fired up and are about to begin drying operations at Daytona.

Update, 1:22 p.m. Sun is out in full force, no doubt a hugh help to the jet dryers on the track.

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