Daytona Rain Delay Gives Drivers Time To Fill

Rain

Weather has created a 72-hour rain delay for NASCAR Cup Series teams since practicing Friday at Daytona Int'l Speedway ahead of Monday's postponed Daytona 500. (James Gilbert/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mother Nature taking over NASCAR Speedweeks presented by AdventHealth effectively created The Great American Rain Delay at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Giving a nod to Sportsnaut’s Matt Weaver for the on-the-spot nickname, a sprawling storm system moved into the Daytona Beach area on Saturday morning, forcing the cancellation of final NASCAR Cup Series practice for the 66th Daytona 500.

Though a brief window of opportunity opened which allowed an abbreviated NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying session to take place early Saturday afternoon, showers returned prior to the scheduled start of the Xfinity Series race and continued on Sunday, leading to a full postponement of the Daytona 500.

That means that by the time the Cup Series hits the track Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET, nearly three full days will have passed since drivers have been behind the wheel of their racecars at all.

Knowing early in the week that weather was expected to alter the weekend schedule, reporters were afforded the chance to pose a big-picture question to drivers ahead of the Great American Race:

“What do you plan to do with the abundance of free time you’ll have during the weekend?”

Various and diverse answers came back in response to the question, from rookies and veterans alike.

Sophomore driver Ty Gibbs noted that if a rain delay occurs during a race, he prefers to stay focused on his on-track performance and “do homework” prior to the resumption.

“There are sometimes when I’ll go see – if we’re in the middle of the race and I was struggling in some spot, I’ll look and see where I could get better at,” said Gibbs. “My team sends me some stuff, or I’ll look myself. That’s for races that have already started. Otherwise, I usually just hang out.

“I eat well and try to hydrate the proper way. Those are the main things.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain tipped that the balance between finding food and avoiding it, as a driver, can often be a challenge when there’s nothing else to do because of the weather.

“Trying not to eat. Even if I’ve eaten and prepared, and we go out and run 10 laps in the race and we get out, I’m looking for food. It’s just my natural nervous instinct,” Chastain explained. “So, I’ll eat more. Even though we aren’t racing, we’re still burning calories. The nerves and the adrenaline and the heart rate are all up.

“It’s impossible not to need to take in more calories during these events.”

Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion for Hendrick Motorsports who’s seeking his first Daytona 500 win, agreed with Chastain that thoughts of food and drink tend to be prevalent.

Rainout Larson

Kyle Larson looks on during a rain delay Saturday at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (Nigel Kinrade/NKP photo)

“[It] depends how long the rain delay is going to be,” Larson said. “Hmm … I mean, we sit there with a lot of rain delays at Daytona. I’m thinking about what we’ve done in Daytona. I know we’ve gotten Chipotle before.

“I used to have an XBOX, used to play that some,” continued Larson, a father of three whose oldest, Owen, turned nine in December. “I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve watched Disney movies [with the kids] during rain delays. We just kind of do whatever.”

However, Chastain – an eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Alva, Fla. – tipped that rain during a Daytona NASCAR weekend has an effect on more than just the drivers, crew members, and fans in attendance.

It also requires extra logistics for his family’s farm, which is roughly four hours southwest of Daytona Int’l Speedway.

“We plan accordingly,” Chastain explained, referencing both his race team and his family. “We have rooms booked in case we need them. That’s a necessary insurance plan. I don’t dwell, though. I’d rather the rain be here than at the farm. We don’t need any more rain [there].

“A little bit is OK, but not the two days of steady rain like they’d been talking about [across Florida]. I’m a farmer at heart, here, so I’ve been looking at different weather apps my entire life and listening to forecasts and meteorologists.”

Though drivers often find ways to enjoy themselves during the down time provided by a rain delay or rainout, the timing of weather clearing up doesn’t always work in their favors. Larson offered a humorous example of that during Wednesday’s pre-qualifying media availabilities.

“I was bummed one time. I don't even know if it was a rain delay,” Larson recalled. “Like, [wife] Katelyn and [friend] Laura, they were having a taco night once. They were all drinking margaritas and stuff.

“I sat there and wanted one so bad, but I had to go race … so I couldn’t do that.”

As for Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, his philosophy on rain delays boils down to five words in its simplest form, “It is what it is.”

“[Rain] doesn’t do anything to my psyche,” Elliott said Wednesday. “I don’t know what it does to anybody else’s … other than just being here for another day or two. It’s Wednesday, and we’re in Florida. I think the biggest things it changes are the spectators, based on who wants to come and whether or not they want to sit in the rain. For me, I don’t think it changes a whole lot, really at all.

“I’m here until we get this thing done.”

Rain

(L-to-R) Todd Gilliland (second from left), Harrison Burton, and Zane Smith visit with fans during Sunday's rainout of the 66th Daytona 500. (DIS photo)

Perhaps most notably, a trio of young drivers used Sunday’s rainout to entertain fans in the campground at Daytona, providing a glimmer of light amid a damp and overcast day at the World Center of Racing.

Zane Smith, Harrison Burton, and Todd Gilliland took the opportunity of having free time with no racing to visit numerous campsites and chat with fans who came out for the week and hoped to see 500 miles of racing on Sunday.

Smith was the one who sparked the idea, posting on X (formerly Twitter) to energize his fanbase before going out into the weather and finding a host of Daytona 500 attendees to surprise.

“[I] hate the rain won today, but I’m going to try to make the most out of it and meet some of you guys!” Smith wrote. “Let me know your camp site and I will try to come find you! Might be able to drag a few other drivers along too!”

Burton and Gilliland, two longtime friends of Smith’s from their short-track racing days growing up, jumped on the bandwagon and created a special experience for the fans.

The 66th Daytona 500 is set to go green at 4 p.m. ET Monday afternoon, following the postponed NASCAR Xfinity Series race that was initially scheduled to be run Saturday at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Coverage of the Great American Race will air on FOX, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.