For the second time in its 41-year history, NASCAR's Pepsi 400 will be run at night, under the lights, Saturday night.
And this time, barring a central Florida downpour, it will be telecast before a network television audience on CBS at 8 p.m.
With an eye toward drawing its first primetime network audience, NASCAR executives in 1998 installed the world's largest lighting system at Daytona International Speedway, host of stock-car racing's Daytona 500 each February and Pepsi 400 in July.
Musco Lighting Inc., the company that lit outdoor scenes for the movie "Dances with Wolves," won the contract to illuminate the hulking 2.5-mile superspeedway. The company also has designed lights for Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, both 1.5-mile ovals.
This time last year, the stage was set for Daytona's inaugural night race. But the wildfires that raged through central Florida that week forced its postponement. When the race was run in October, CBS sent the broadcast to cable partner TNN. On Saturday night, co-hosts Greg Gumbel and Ken Squier will be joined in the CBS booth by analysts Buddy Baker and Ned Jarrett.
An unlikely pair of drivers will start the race from the front row. Joe Nemechek, of nearby Lakeland, Fla., won the pole with his qualifying lap of 194.860 mph; veteran Ricky Rudd starts alongside.
Three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, NASCAR's most telegenic driver, lines up 11th. Gordon, who won his second Daytona 500 in February, is trying to become the fifth stock-car racer to win both of Daytona's major races in the same year. Fireball Roberts did it in 1962 and was followed by Cale Yarborough (1968), LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) and Bobby Allison (1982).
CBS Sports' coverage of the 1999 Daytona 500 drew a national rating of 9.5 and a 25 share, reaching an estimated 29.5 million viewers. NASCAR President Bill France said he doesn't see that race, NASCAR's premier event, moving to nighttime.
A slight chance of thunderstorms is forecast. Stock cars don't race in the rain because of their tread-less tires. But with no worries about getting the race in before nightfall, NASCAR can wait out a rain delay.