Daytona, FL—with 48 laps to go in NASCAR's biggest race of the year, Mother Nature stepped in and "forced" an early end to the contest, giving Matt Kenseth a victory—his first—in the sport's marque event, the Daytona 500.
While Matt and his team celebrated, hundreds of thousands of fans both at the race and watching on television shook their heads in frustration and wondered why.
This isn't just any race, this is THE race. Drivers go their whole career trying to win this one, even if they know they will never be in contention for the overall championship. The longer a driver competes without winning Daytona, the more media attention he gets each year until he either retires or wins it.
Dale Earnhardt was a 7-time Cup champion but had never won Daytona. The last three times he raced their before his win all the talk was about whether this year would FINALLY be the year he got over the hump, as if his seven championships were somehow incomplete without the 500 on his resume.
Mark Martin has now gone 25 years without a Daytona win. Widely considered to be one of the best drivers in NASCAR to never win neither the championship nor Daytona, it is a safe bet that he was at least the sentimental favorite to pull into victory lane this year, likely one of his last in NASCAR.
But NASCAR isn't concerned about the storylines; they are worried about driver safety. This is evidenced by the steps they are taking to ensure Goodyear provides the best tire possible for thier drivers, and the proactive steps they have historically taken to ensure the drivers are as protected as possible in the event of a serious crash.
So, in order to protect their drivers and keep them from driving on an unsafe track, NASCAR made the call to shorten the 500, despite the fact that there where at least a dozen drivers who had a legitimate shot at winning the race Besides Kenseth.
Never mind that tens of thousands of fans had ponied up their hard-earned money in a lousy economy to come to the race, forget about the fact that Daytona has plenty of lights to allow the race to be extended into the evening; nope, this race just had to be called in the interest of safety.
There was plenty of opportunity to let the storm pass, dry the track, and let the drivers decide the race. It's not like they haven't done it before. Races in the past have gone well into the evening, occasionally past midnight, when NASCAR waited out the storm and let the drivers get back out there and compete. And the fans stayed, for the most part, until the checkered flag fell.
Daytona would have been no different. The rain would have stopped, the track could have been dried, and the fans would have stayed to see who had the best car out there.
Now we will never know.