Less than an hour ago, NASCAR officials decided to make the call that the noon start time for the 2012 Daytona 500 would have to be pushed back to 7pm this evening as rains continued to drench the grounds. The officials expect that today’s rains will continue through 6pm which means once the rain stops, the track crews will have about an hour to get the surface dry enough to allow racing. However, even if the rain does stop and the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are able to run the Daytona 500 more than 24 hours later than expected, the amount of precipitation that has fallen over the speedway in the past two days could have a severe impact on the race itself in addition to the fact that the teams will have to make adjustments for the fact that they will be racing at night instead of running in the heat of the day.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup has become a sort of high powered science and when testing for races (especially the crown jewel of the series with the season starting Daytona 500), teams attempt to create situations that mimic the actual race as closely as possible. This includes racing in the heat of the day when the track surface is much hotter, which in turn has an effect on the grip of the cars on the track, tire wear/performance and the overall impact of the heat on the cars. When racing at night, the track surface is cooler and while that might not seem like a huge difference, in a sport where a thousandth of a second can win or lose someone the race – moving the Daytona 500 under the lights could have a big impact on the outcome of the race. Had the race gotten off today at noon as NASCAR officials planned last night, the conditions would have been very similar to what the teams would have faced on Sunday but with racing in the much cooler temperatures of the Florida February evening, this could present problems for the drivers and race teams.
In addition to the fact that the teams will have to adjust to racing at night, there is also the concern of moisture on the track both from the two days of rain as well as condensation as the cooler evening temperatures hit the track. While the track crew for the Daytona 500 is well versed in drying out the massive super speedway, there is still the concern of moisture from all of that rain on the lower, unused areas of the track as well as the grassy areas. The cars typically avoid these areas but the cars do occasionally get into these areas. Also, the consistent rain can create residual moisture on the track during the race while also changing the grip of the track as the rain removes the tackiness of certain areas.
Based on the number of accidents seen in both the truck series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series events – the added dampness in Daytona could make the 54th running of the fabled 500 a crashfest. Hopefully, the rain will stop as expected and allow the Great American Race to start tonight.