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Atlanta loses stand-off with weather
4 September 2011
The forecasters had been saying for days before the AdvoCare 500 was scheduled to be held as a night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday evening that there was a slim chance of the weather allowing them to have at it.
For once, the forecasters nailed it.
The weather fronts left over from Tropical Storm Lee that had recently battered the US Gulf Coast and especially the area around New Orleans had moved into Georgia and were only just starting to make their presence felt. From early Sunday afternoon the drizzle and rain began to move in, and the weather radar was a horror show for anyone wanting to see any racing at the 1.54-miles D-shaped oval.
The organisers struggled to keep the possibility of a race alive, first bringing forward the proposed start time to 7.30pm and then sending out jet dryers on track as soon as the rain and drizzle abated early in the evening. However all it took was a single short sharp shower at around 9.15pm to undo all the work they had been doing, and with nearly 100% humidity and virtually no wind in the area they were getting no help from the conditions to dry the track.
With NASCAR needing to run at least half of the scheduled 325 to make the race official, finding a long enough spell to both dry the track and run the laps was getting all but impossible. Finally at 9.40pm the word came down that the race was being abandoned for the day. Moreover, with the forecasts showing "100% chance of rain and severe thunderstorms" for Monday it seemed pointless to even attempt to start the race on the Labor Day public holiday.
There are also warnings of local flash floods after downpours of 5-7 inches forecast over the next 24 hours and even alerts for isolated tornadoes, leading NASCAR to take the decision to not even attempt to start the race until 11am on Tuesday morning on the grounds of public safety.
Worryingly for organisers, the US National Weather Service is still predicting a 70% chance of rain for Tuesday morning, declining to 50% from 2pm in the afternoon and down to 25% in the evening.
If the race could not be pulled off on Tuesday, it's uncertain whether it could be delayed still further and held on Wednesday, and still allow the teams to decamp to Richmond in time for the start of next weekend's program of events. NASCAR could return to Atlanta on the following Monday, or as a last resort the race could be rescheduled for later in the season - possibly as far back as Thanksgiving weekend at the end of November.
Atlanta is currently due to be the penultimate race in the build-up to the Chase. If it it forced to be delayed by several weeks then Richmond and Chicago would become the last two stages of the Race for the Chase instead, and the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway would then be the first event of the Chase itself while Atlanta could even end up as the season finale.
"Hopefully everything goes good Tuesday," NASCAR president Mike Helton told ESPN. "We'll just be a few days behind and get back on schedule."
Although it's too far off for reliable forecasts at this stage, the outlook for Richmond next weekend is similarly not promising after other tropical storms have also been plaguing the coasts off North America.
The last race to be delayed for rain was the August road course event at Watkins Glen, which was held on the Monday morning after rain washed out the scheduled Sunday time slot. NASCAR does not allow any wet weather running even on road courses, and on ovals it is especially impossible to race safely on a wet track.
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