Daytona 500 update: Rain has stopped, track expected to be dry by 8:30 p.m. ET

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UPDATE: 7:15 p.m. ET: The rain has finally stopped at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR has its AirTitan dryers on the track and the media has been informed that it is hoped the track will be dry and race-ready by about 8:30 p.m. ET. That does not mean the race will resume at that time, but it’s a good indicator that the green flag could fall shortly thereafter. More updates to follow as they become available.

UPDATE: 5:25 p.m. ET: The tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service for Volusia County, Fla., including Daytona Beach and Daytona International Speedway, has expired (at 5:15 p.m. ET). As recently as 4:45 p.m. ET, quarter-sized hail was falling in the Orlando area, about 50 miles southwest of DIS. But it is expected that particular storm cell will head south towards the area of Edgewater, Fla. As for DIS, it is still raining lightly, but AirTitan dryers are attempting to dry the track along with more conventional jet dryers. Neither NASCAR nor DIS officials have indicated when — or if — racing may resume tonight.

UPDATE: 4:26 p.m. ET: The National Weather Service has extended the tornado warning for Volusia County until 5:15 p.m. ET. Current conditions at Daytona International Speedway are light rain with heavy overcast.

UPDATE, 3:12 p.m. ET: The National Weather Service has reissued a tornado warning for Volusia County, which includes Daytona International Speedway, until 4 p.m. ET. Track and NASCAR officials have informed fans that a warning has been issued.

UPDATE, 3:05 p.m. ET: A tornado warning was issued for Volusia County, which includes Daytona International Speedway, but it has expired at 2:45 pm. Weather radar continues to show a long front of thunderstorms — including several heavy cells — that stretch all across the top of Florida and past the Panhandle.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 has been red-flagged by rain.

The Great American Race was stopped after 38 laps of the 200-mile race. A large band of thunderstorms is moving through the area.

The delay could take a while as the storm band on weather radar stretches back almost across the entire state of Florida.

If racing resumes but returns later, the race would have to get through 101 laps — just one lap past halfway — to be deemed official by NASCAR officials.

The red comes after the second caution of the race past Lap 31, caused when Martin Truex Jr.’s engine let go on his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, and additional fluid was found down on the track.

In the opening 30 laps, five drivers exchanged the lead for five lead changes. Kyle Busch leads now; brother Kurt Busch has led the most laps thus far in his Stewart-Haas Racing debut.

Polesitter Austin Dillon led the opening lap before fading back, with Denny Hamlin, winner of the two other Speedweeks races thus far, then took over the point.

Kyle Larson hit the wall early, and spun later on, in what’s been a fraught Daytona 500 debut thus far.

After the first caution for Larson’s spin on Lap 23, the first round of pit stops featured drama for Matt Kenseth as he was spun into his pit stall. The two-time Daytona 500 champion was facing the wrong direction after what appeared to be contact from Trevor Bayne.

Meanwhile, Richard Petty’s driver, Marcos Ambrose, made very slight contact leaving his pit with of all people, Danica Patrick.

Kurt Busch took the lead off the pit sequence, and exchanged the lead with Hamlin and Paul Menard on the Lap 27 restart. Brother Kyle took over the point several laps later.

At the red, the top 10 order is Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Hamlin, Brian Vickers, Menard, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dillon. Kurt Busch has dropped to 11th.

More updates to come.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski