DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2012) -- The 54th annual running of the Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain for the second time in as many days and is now scheduled to start at 7:02 p.m. tonight.

"We hope to have "lady and gentlemen, start your engines," at 7:02 and then warm up and go to green flag," NASCAR President Mike Helton said this morning at Daytona International Speedway. "We believe this is a reasonable expectation, and we also believe in a modern world with the technology that we have to interpret weather, forecast it and try to stay on top of it within a reasonable amount of time."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is set to start fifth in the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet and Ryan Newman is 18th on the starting grid in the No. 39 U.S. Army/Quicken Loans Chevy.

The race originally was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Sunday, but rain throughout the day forced NASCAR officials to postpone the start of the race until noon today. With an 80 percent chance of rain forecast for today, and following a morning-long shower, the start of "The Great American Race" was set back again.

"One of the things that was very important by announcing it at this time, we were able to communicate with our fans," said Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway. "The last thing we wanted to do was have our fans wait through another long day of rain delays and jet-dryer activity, so we felt like this gives them some clarity so they can come up with their plans. Hopefully that means stay at home, stay at their hotel, rest, whatever it is they need to do, and they can come out and enjoy the event this evening."

If the race starts tonight, it will be the first Daytona 500 televised in prime time. FOX Sports will provide live coverage even if the start is delayed until later in the evening.

The option of running the race on Tuesday also exists.

"Tuesday is an option," Helton said. "We're focused on today and this afternoon right now, but just so everyone knows, Tuesday is an option before we'd have to reconsider packing up and leaving."

Although running only half a race is necessary to consider the event official, NASCAR officials hope drivers can complete the 500 miles.

"It is a function of the entirety of the event, essentially not started yet," Helton said. "Our effort is to run the entire 500 miles, and that's the decision that we'd make initially that includes the entire 500 mile distance. And the flexibility throughout yesterday still exists today.

"We're targeting 7:00 because we feel like it's realistic. If it takes a little bit longer to get ready to go, I think everybody is willing to do that to accomplish the conclusion of the Daytona 500 within a reasonable amount of time. So 7:00 is not a drop-dead critical moment. It's just the time that we felt like it gave us our best shot right now. But we could go a little bit later if it's necessary."

"From NASCAR's perspective, we try to make the decision that's good for the entire industry, but certainly we would have liked for the Daytona 500 to run on schedule yesterday with a bright, sunny day. But it didn't quite happen that way. So now we're just trying to get it done as correctly as we can."