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Rain plays havoc with Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH — For the second time in three years, rain significantly delayed the Daytona 500.

Sprinkles began to fall shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday, with 38 laps of the scheduled 200 complete and Kyle Busch leading. Then severe weather rolled in. The stands at Daytona International Speedway emptied after the National Weather Service issued two separate tornado warnings in the area.

The bad weather was noteworthy enough that the track-drying equipment system, Air Titan, trended nationally on Twitter. Drivers passed the time by watching TV or movies or, in the case of Denny Hamlin, playing basketball.

Racing resumed after a six-hour, 22-minute delay, a race record.

In 2012, rain postponed the race from Sunday afternoon to evening and eventually to Monday in primetime, when Matt Kenseth won. Before that, rain had shortened the Great American Race four other times and forced it to start under yellow twice.

Sunday's race resumed with 162 laps left — about the distance of Daytona's other Cup event, July's primetime Coke Zero 400.

Stewart denied again: Tony Stewart's comeback ended with more Daytona heartache.

Stewart is 0-for-16 in the 500 after an engine problem cost him several laps. He later went to the garage with other issues in his Stewart-Haas No. 14 Chevrolet.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion was in his first race since breaking two bones in his right leg in an August sprint-car crash.

Dillon leads: In its first lap back after 467 races, the No. 3 car got off to a strong start.

Austin Dillon led Lap 1 from the pole in the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Hamlin passed Dillon for the lead on Lap 2, and Dillon dropped back in the field.

The No. 3 Dale Earnhardt made famous hadn't been used in Sprint Cup since the seven-time series champion died on a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500. Dillon is the grandson of Childress, Earnhardt's close friend and longtime car owner.

Early struggles: Touted rookie Kyle Larson had to pit on the third lap after his No. 42 Chevrolet scrubbed the wall twice in the opening laps.

Martin Truex also saw his hopes end early when he had mechanical problems on his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy. Truex qualified second but had to drop to the back of the field for the start after a fiery wreck in Thursday's Daytona Duels forced him to switch to his backup car.

Kenseth, the two-time Daytona 500 champion, also had early problems. He missed his stall on the first round of pit stops and spun. His crew completed the service with his car sitting backward in its spot.

Almirola leads: Tampa native Aric Almirola led his first laps at Daytona when he took the lead with 122 laps to go. His No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford hadn't led a lap since last year's race at Chicago.

Almirola's run at the top didn't last long. The 29-year-old led five laps before pitting. He received a stop-and-go penalty for removing equipment from pit road. He dropped back to 39th place.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Rain plays havoc with Daytona 500 02/23/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 12:42am]
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