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Rain forces Daytona 500 start time to be moved to 7 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH – The Daytona 500 is headed to primetime.

The Great American Race is now scheduled to start at 7 p.m. tonight because of more rain, NASCAR announced Monday morning. The race will be shown live on Fox.

"We're targeting 7:00 because we feel like it's realistic," NASCAR president Mike Helton said.

The race was initially scheduled to begin at 1:29 p.m. Sunday, but showers postponed the race for the first time in its 54-year history. Rain started again around 9 a.m. Monday, and organizers pushed it back another seven hours shortly before 10:30 a.m.

Sunday's tickets will still be honored tonight.

The National Weather Service forecasts a 30 percent chance of showers this evening, and organizers said they can start it a little later and still try to race 500 miles if need be. The "start your engines" call is scheduled for 7:02 p.m.

"We also have some buffer if we had to delay a little longer than that," Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said.

Running the race on Tuesday "is an option" in case poor weather persists, Helton said. NASCAR hasn't announced whether tickets will be refunded in case the event is pushed back until another week. The delay could hinder teams who must travel 2,200 miles to Phoenix for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 in Phoenix.

The weather dampened turnout Monday morning.

On Sunday, race traffic was at a standstill five hours before the scheduled start time. A 1.5-mile drive from I-4 to Daytona International Speedway took an hour. Twenty-four hours later, that same drive took two minutes.

Signs for $40 parking had disappeared. Mud and puddles stood at the spots where scalpers tried to sell their tickets. Ushers stood around at the speedway gates, waiting for a ticket to check.

It's unclear how much money the speedway will lose because of the first postponement in Daytona 500 history, but it won't be good. The speedway planned to staff Monday's event as if it were expecting 180,000 fans, although it wouldn't generate much more revenue.

"All you're doing is eating up expenses," Chitwood said.

The same goes for some fans.

Brett Herrington, 34, flew to Daytona from New Jersey for his first Daytona 500. As he peeked into Danica Patrick's garage Monday morning, organizers announced over the loud speakers that the new start time would be 7 p.m. His flight home leaves at 9:30.

"So now I just spent $300 on tickets," Herrington said, "and don't get to see the race."

Rain forces Daytona 500 start time to be moved to 7 p.m. 02/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 27, 2012 1:30pm]
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