Daytona 500 Delay Not Good, But Once It Might Have Been Far Worse

Daytona avoided bad weather for so many years that some joked its founder, Bill France Sr., had a direct line to a "higher power," through which he made requests for good weather on the day of the Daytona 500.

As you now know, what has transpired at Daytona International Speedway has never before taken place.

The track held its inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, 53 years ago. As incredible as it may sound, for all that time the race was never rained out until, of course, this year.

Oh, the rains came. More than one 500 was cut short because of bad weather. But none was called off completely and rescheduled for another day.

Until, course, this year.

The race’s ability – fortune, really – to avoid bad weather year after year was ultimately a matter of luck. No one can control the elements. Mother Nature pretty much does what she wants and we just have to go along with it.

For reasons of her own she decided to leave Daytona pretty much alone season after season.

Until, of course, this year.

There we a lot of media wags who felt it was a mere mortal who assured reasonably good weather for Daytona for years and not some type of mythical spirit.

It was believed, cynically of course, that “Big Bill” France, the man who founded NASCAR and built the mammoth 2.5-mile Daytona track, had a direct line to, shall we say, “The Man Upstairs.”

That had to be what it was. Otherwise, how could France’s showplace track avoid the weather scourges that sometimes plagued every other speedway?

There were times when skies were black and distant thunder rumbled as us media types headed to the speedway during the early morning hours.

It was so ominous that we just knew the skies would open up and there would be such a tumultuous rainfall there was no way the 500 was going to start – much less finish.

But as the cars lined up on the grid awaiting the command to start engines, darkness would dissipate and not a single drop of rain fell for 500 miles.

Or if it did, it stopped and the racing surface was dried soon enough for the entire distance to be completed.

Or it began to rain only after the event had passed its halfway point and was thus official, no matter what happened afterward.

Bottom line – Daytona avoided a complete postponement year after year after year.

We just knew why. France had gotten on his direct line to Heaven and made a request that was honored. A force stronger than Mother Nature told her to lay off. Ol’ France had real power on his side.

Seems that power had been passed on to his son Bill Jr. and other high-ranking NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. executives.

Until, of course, this year.

I’ll grant you that Daytona, in fact all NASCAR competitors, fans and media, have been very fortunate indeed that the 500 avoided postponement for so many years.

There was a time that if the race had been called off a particularly awkward and expensive scenario would be created.

For many, many years, NASCAR did not have a “next clear day” rule for postponements. A race that could not begin, or officially end, was not rescheduled for the next day.

For example, a Sunday race was not automatically slotted to run the following Monday.

Instead, the race was rescheduled for the next “open” weekend. And if that did not come seven days later, it would have to be the following two, three or four weeks afterward

The weekend had to be an open one. A track’s race date was not moved aside to make way for one lost by another.

The main reason it was this way was to satisfy the concerns of most race promoters.

At that time few of them felt a race on Monday would succeed and, as a result, they would lose money.

They argued that fans had to work and would not come back a day later – they simply couldn’t. At the least that meant a loss of concession income.

The promoters said they had a better chance at a profit if they could take some time to market the race again and rely on a weekend’s worth of new activity to lure back the fans and their money.

So NASCAR enacted the “next open weekend” policy.

However, it could play havoc the schedule, as tracks whose race dates were in late winter or early spring were highly susceptible to bad weather.

After Daytona, races at Rockingham and Richmond followed in quick succession, although sometimes not in that order.

Tropical breezes don’t blow in Rockingham or Richmond in late February or early March.

North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham was a handsome facility. But it was often plagued by rain, which forced several postponements and some awkward rescheduling. Hope this helps.

Many times their race weekends were plagued with rain – or even snow. It happened so often at Rockingham, located in the Sandhills area of Southern North Carolina, that it became known as “Rainingham.”

When it happened, a Rockingham race was obviously reset for the next open weekend. Trouble was, it was very seldom seven days later.

Often it was two or three weeks before one of the track’s postponed races could take place.

And there was always this thought: What if Daytona, Rockingham and Richmond were postponed it successive weeks? It was a possibility after all and, as a result, the open-weekend policy would create an unimaginable mess.

Uh, run a rescheduled Daytona 500 in May or June?

Fortunately that never happened.

Eventually common sense took over.

First, teams decried the open weekend policy, saying it cost them a heullva lot more money to pack up and leave a track rather than just stay overnight.

To resupply, re-pay for weekend’s worth of rooms and meals and to absorb all the travel costs therein – again – was simply flushing the budget for what was essentially going to another race.

To compete on the full schedule was expensive enough without having to pay for what amounted to one, not to mention maybe two or three, more events.

Fans also expressed the opinion that it cost them less to stay one extra day, if they could, than to repack, rebook and refuel for another weekend.

NASCAR agreed. It was logical and practical.

This isn’t to say the next clear day rule is the perfect answer. Racing on a Monday most decidedly has many inconveniences.

And, as we know, if that Monday proves unacceptable, the race moves to a Tuesday. If that does not work out things get pretty darn dicey.

Well, we now know that won’t be a possibility at this point of the season because the 500 was run, thankfully, last night.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a bit late before Mother Nature got the message to lay off.

But, finally, she did.

Kurt Busch Has Another Day At Daytona To Ponder His New Adventure

Kurt Busch now drives for Phoenix Racing, an organization much smaller than those that have employed him in the past. Busch, however, thinks the team has potential and has become accustomed to what he calls a "simpler" type of racing.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heavy downpours postponed the Daytona 500, for the first time in 54 years, until noon today, giving drivers and teams an opportunity to reflect on the 2012 season – should they care to do so.

While hanging out during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway leading up to the first of this year’s 36 races, Kurt Busch did just that.

Specifically, he pondered his new role as the driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolets owned by James Finch.

Busch came to Daytona with a new outlook after his mutual parting last November with Penske Racing, the powerhouse organization with which he won 12 of his 24 career victories.

Busch is excited about driving for the smaller, but productive Finch organization, as well as a new Nationwide Series opportunity as teammate to younger brother Kyle.

Everywhere the Las Vegas native looks, he sees work going on on the handful of red, white and black cars scattered about in the team’s small Spartanburg, S.C., shop.

“Everyone is working three times as hard and it’s great to see the youthful exuberance and excitement,” Busch said. “This is different. It’s a small group and we are hoping that we are the little team that can.”

The team is so small that when Busch comes to visit and talk with crew chief Nick Harrison or Finch, he wears jeans and T-shirts just in case someone on the team hands him a wrench or an air sander.

“Yeah, I jump right in there with the guys,” Busch said. “We have been mounting seats which has been the primary focus. I’ve even helped string the car or bump steer it.

“I was there when they put it on the pull-down rig, just to see how they do their sequence of set-ups. It is so refreshing to see that the steps they are taking are the same steps all the big teams are doing.

“You can say our pull down-rig doesn’t cost as much as the ones the big time teams are using, but it is there; it’s efficient and it’s easy to use.”

Busch was involved in some testing before the season began in part to become familiar with those on the team and to hear Harrison’s ideas about the cars.

“We were here in Daytona of course, then we went over to Nashville Superspeedway for a two-day test. We burned up a good 10 sets of tires,“ Busch said. “Finch is like, ‘Come on. Tires? Really?’

“I learned Finch does not like the Goodyear tire bills. It is going to be fun all year long asking him for an extra set of tires.

“I was getting off on too much of a sarcastic tone there.

“Harrison is a guy from Tennessee from the days of Sterling Marlin. It’s not really grassroots. It’s just old school and everybody knows everybody, they work really hard and at the end of the day they crack a beer and talk about what has to happen the next day.”

Busch mutually agreed to part ways with Penske Racing and team owner Roger Penske (left) at the end of last season. With Penske, Busch earned 12 of his career 24 Sprint Cup victories.

Even though it’s early in the season, Busch said he plans to be with Finch and brother Kyle in 2012 and see where things stand in 2013 and beyond.

He and Finch do not have a contract and will rely on a pleasant relationship and success to chart the future.

“There is that opportunity,” Busch said. “I mean the future doesn’t have a definition for me other than 2012 is going to be a lot about fun.

“I’ve got Finch’s Phoenix Racing. I’ve also got Kyle’s KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) program to work with and the Monster Energy group of guys and I’ll run probably half the Nationwide schedule over there.”

Busch feels very good he’ll have something to celebrate this season.
“I said to the guys I want to get kicked out of the garage,” Busch said. “They said, ‘What the heck does that mean?’ I said, ‘We’re going to win a race this year and I want to be sitting at the back of the hauler on top of our coolers, drinking beer when NASCAR tells us we have to go.’

“I hope we get kicked out of the garage that way.’”

Leading up to the 500, Busch lost some good race cars to crashes in practice and the Budweiser Shootout and had to make repairs to a third car when he struck a seagull in final practice.

But his car for the 500 seems good and is equipped with a strong Hendrick Motorsports engine.

“There is the quantity of cars that are on the floor. The quality of cars, the Hendrick chassis’ that we have that we want to work with, hose are limited,” Busch said. “Over time we will get some more.

“I hope we win the Daytona 500 because that means we will have more of a budget to buy more cars. It is that old school, you have to do well and protect the car, so you have it the next week.”

The Daytona 500 has had its share of surprise winners throughout its five-decade history, the latest  being rookie Trevor Bayne in 2011.

So what would it mean to Busch to win the Daytona 500 in Finch’s lesser-funded Chevrolet?

“I’ve finished second three times,” Busch said. “I’ve pushed a teammate to win, Ryan Newman, back in 2008. I remember back in 2005, when I had a move to make on Jeff Gordon on the outside going into turn three, I looked in the mirror and saw everybody cutting to the inside to go by me in the draft. I’m like, ‘Man, I just got to block to the inside and take this second-place finish.’

“It kind of eats at me a little bit that I should have taken that risk to go to the high side and see what could have happened off the fourth turn.

“It’s really the race that can define a driver’s career,” Busch added. “It is a big priority, the prestigious value of winning at Daytona and what it does for a driver’s career long term, what it can do for the immediate impact. This race is our spectacle. It is the most important stock car race of the year.”

No matter for whom he races, you have to admit Busch as a shot a victory. He is one of the best at drafting on Daytona’s high banks.

No doubt a win in the 500 would certainly be an improbable, even incredible, comeback story.


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