NEW: The Daytona 500 got under way Monday evening
The race was pushed back twice due to rain
Four of the previous 53 races have been shortened
For the first time since its inaugural race in 1959, drivers competing in NASCAR’s Daytona 500 started burning rubber at night and on a Monday after Florida showers forced a day-long delay.
Rain led race officials to pull the plug Sunday and try again Monday afternoon, but continuing showers led them to re-reschedule the start for Monday evening. The rain let up in the afternoon, and the race got under way about 7:15 p.m.
Ticket prices were not being refunded to Sunday ticketholders, a woman who answered the phone at the raceway said. The speedway can accommodate about 160,000 people, and the grandstands and infield were packed despite the 24-hour delay.
Before this year, rain had cut short four of 53 previous races – in 1965, 1966, 2003 and 2009 – but none had been canceled for the day.
“This is one of the toughest things for us drivers,” Carl Edwards said. “When you put that off for another day for all of us, it’s now (about) who can really stay focused.”
Fellow driver Bobby Labonte shrugged off the delay.
“(There’s) not a whole lot we can do about the weather, but you just try to plan as much as possible,” the winner of 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races said. “When you get in the race car, then everything else goes away and you’re just ready to go.”
The Daytona 500 opens the NASCAR season, but it also is the sport’s most prestigious race. Daytona International Speedway announced this month that the race will boast a record purse of more than $19 million. In comparison, last year’s Indianapolis 500 had a payout of $13.5 million.
Race officials are battling the odds. The National Weather Service forecast the central Florida coast called for an 80% chance of precipitation Monday afternoon and a 30% chance in the evening. Tuesday is expected to be partly sunny after patches of morning fog.
CNN’s Tom Watkins, Dan Moriarty and Ed Payne contributed to this report.