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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Fennelly: NASCAR fans deserve much better than this

DAYTONA BEACH — At Daytona International Speedway, construction is everywhere, part of a $400 million improvement project: better seating, more concourses, more luxury suites, more everything, in time for the 2016 Daytona 500 — or was it the end of the 2014 Daytona 500?

So it seemed as the rain fell, as we wondered if they ought to ditch all those other improvements and just put a dome over this place.

Bright spot: Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t around to explode jet fuel.

In recent years, Daytona has found all sorts of ways to eat up Sunday and even stretch it to Monday. The 500 has been delayed by rain, by potholes, and, two years ago, by fire, when rain forced the race into prime time Monday, and Juan Pablo tangled with the Jet Fuel Dryer.

The dryers were back Sunday, another command performance, whining their way around the track as afternoon turned to evening, as drenched fans kept disappearing, then re-appearing. Most of the dryers were content to stay in line, though two of them battled into Turn 4. It was Richard Petty and Danica Patrick — match race. First one to the big puddle wins.

It should be noted that, in the name of conserving jet fuel, and another Juan Pablo, Daytona now uses the Air Titan system, which squeegees water off the track using compressed air. Still, it’s never a good thing when sea gulls begin settling in the swamp in front of pit row, or when you don’t know where Lake Lloyd ends and the track begins.

What a day. And night.

This race, interrupted after 38 laps, was red flagged for 6 hours, 21 minutes, 40 seconds, for those of you keeping score at home.

I’m going to give it up for the race fans here who stayed hour after hour.

True, part of it reminds me of Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” when he screams at Louis Gossett Jr.

“I got nowhere else to go!”

But these fans are the best of the best, truly.

And they deserve better than this.

The 500 took so long to finish that we think Tony Stewart’s leg was completely healed by then.

It took so long that Jimmie Johnson won.

Actually, Johnson won last year’s 500, which was replayed by Fox during the rain delay, a rain-delay coverage which — we are not kidding — was sponsored by the movie “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe as the one and only Ark-itect, who saved two of every animal and run good against a flood of, yes, biblical proportions. I wonder if he would have taken the Busch brothers along …

Anyway, the replay of last year’s race apparently was so riveting that many a race fan sitting at home, glued to the TV, forgot to read the crawl at the bottom of the screen, saying that it was last year’s race. Johnson found himself awash in congratulatory tweets and text messages over his repeat win. Hilarious.

As Abraham Lincoln, driver of the No. 1 Northern Forces Ford, once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and definitely all of the people who own pajamas that are exact replicas of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fire suit.”

Oh, those NASCAR fans.

God love ’em.

Who else would stick around all day to see the race? What other sports fans?

By all rights, Daytona’s grandstands should have been empty, completely, but no, the great waterlogged masses returned. If NASCAR had any gratitude, it would give every one of them free tickets to the July race.

Actually, what NASCAR owes them is telling Fox to take a flying leap and adjusting race start times to the weather — like golf moving up tee times in advance of funky storms. Even mighty NFL seemed poised to do it if the New York Super Bowl had been slammed with a blizzard.

You’re telling me that a sport like NASCAR — billions of dollars everywhere it turns — and a track like Daytona — $400 million in improvements — can’t send a balloon up or watch the radar enough to spot bad weather hours away and adjust start times?

The game owes its loyal fans.

By the way, scratch those free July tickets.

That’s when it always rains.

Dome — now.

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