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Rain forces Daytona 500 to Monday

By Simon Evans

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - The Daytona 500 was postponed to Monday after constant showers on Sunday ruined the hopes of thousands of fans at the Great American Race.

Organizers finally threw in the towel four hours after the scheduled start time, when a shower wrecked all the work that had been done drying out the track.

The washout marked the first time in the 54 years the traditional opener to the NASCAR season and the sport's most prestigious race has been postponed to another day.

"I think NASCAR is doing the right thing in not dragging this out and everyone now knows we will be racing tomorrow (Monday)," said driver Carl Edwards, who holds pole position for the race.

"Hopefully the weather will hold off and we won't be in the same position tomorrow."

Rain, however, is forecast for Monday, raising the possibility of further delays and more frustration for fans and racers.

Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway was reluctant to discuss the chances of the race not taking place until Tuesday.

"It is tough to even talk Tuesday until we get into Monday," he said. "There is inclement weather in the morning but by noon it looks like the weather is better. We'll play it out the best we can.

"We want to exhaust every opportunity of getting the track dry and running the race. I would anticipate by 5 p.m., 6 p.m. if there was rain on the track you will see us play out some decisions. I don't even want to talk about Tuesday right now."

FINANCIAL IMPACT

Chitwood said the postponement would clearly have a financial impact.

"I can't quantify a number other than the fact that is going to cost us more to run this event based on having another day of expenses with no revenue associated with it," he said.

While it is expected that many of the 146,000 seats at the 2.5 mile circuit will be empty on Monday, for the drivers, the challenge is getting back in their routine after a day of waiting in their motorhomes.

"I guess I'm going to have to win the first Monday Daytona 500," said Ford driver Greg Biffle who is also on the front row for the start.

"To just put it on hold makes it tough for a driver because there is all kinds of adrenaline and then you have to try to sleep tonight," he said.

Eight previous Daytona 500 races have been affected by rain in someway but none have ever failed to finish on a Sunday.

(Editing by Gene Cherry)