BRISTOL, Tenn. — A NASCAR season designed to put an emphasis on winning has been coming up a loser against Mother Nature.
Rain again registered a major impact Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the Food City 500 became the second of four Sprint Cup races this year to suffer delays of several hours.
After two rain delays — the first for nearly two hours and the second for three hours and 19 minutes — the race is again underway (Fox Sports 1). It restarted for the second time at 7:16 p.m. under the lights.
The race was scheduled for a 1:13 p.m. green flag. The race didn’t start until 2:57 p.m. Denny Hamlin started on the pole, turning in the fastest qualifying lap — 129.991 mph — in Bristol Cup history Friday.
Drivers were able to complete 118 laps before the caution flag flew as showers began falling over Bristol Motor Speedway again. NASCAR then dropped the red flag on lap 125 as drivers parked their cars on pit road to wait out the rain around 3:45 p.m.
Matt Kenseth was leading, followed by Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Just before the caution flag flew, Jimmie Johnson’s right front tire went down, forcing him to make a green-flag pit stop. Johnson had changed left-side tires during the competition caution on lap 50.
At the red flag, Johnson, who had led 44 laps, was two laps down in 39th place.
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The National Weather Service forecasts a 90 percent chance of showers Sunday evening with a predicted high of 54. Monday’s forecast calls for 60 percent chance of rain.
The race is scheduled for 500 laps around the .533-mile oval, or 266.5 miles. It has reached halfway — 250 laps — so NASCAR can declare a winner at any time despite weather delays because the race is now offiical.
NASCAR’s crown jewel — the season-opening Daytona 500 — was delayed by rain for more than six hours on Feb. 23 and finally was completed under the lights. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second 500 at 11:18 p.m.
The rain delay started just after 2 p.m. and began a red flag that lasted six hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds and brought intermittent storms and a tornado warning.
NASCAR is using the Air Titan track drying system at the Bristol oval and it takes about an hour to dry the surface.