Saturday, August 02, 2008

NASCAR's first points race in the rain

It is much better to be sceptical of something, and be pleasently surprised afterwards, than it is to be optimistic and be bitterly disappointed. This is what we have learned over the last two weeks.

NASCAR had to have a lot of guts to experiment so soon after the tragic excuse for a race at the Brickyard last week. As far as this fan is concerned, it paid off.

NASCAR's experiment was the Nationwide Series NAPA 200 race in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Since rain was forecast in the area, NASCAR made the decision earlier this week to go with rain tires if they needed to. They did need them eight laps into the race.

There were some stumbles, and a little bit of stammering. But they somehow got it right. The first competition turn in the rain was not the disaster predicted by some--nobody crashed on the first turn--and there was actually some passing. In fact, Marcos Ambrose immediately passed Scott Pruett for the lead.

One of the things the teams learned was that, in the rain, they wanted the car to roll more as it turned, as the weight shift actually helped the car through the turns. So, some teams disconnected the sway bars when they switched tires. When it became evident that the track would stay wet, the other teams followed suit.

There were very few mishaps under green, and more racing than was expected. The drivers who had little experience in rain, gradually learned what they could and could not do, while the ran veterans ran quite competitively. Marcos Ambrose took a huge lead, but there was plenty of hard racing going on for second through tenth places behind him.

There were actually green-flag pit stops. Ron Fellows, driving the #5 car for JR Motorsports, pitted for fuel twelve laps ahead of schedule, hoping to gain positions when the other teams pitted. While the rest of the field pitted, beginning with around thirty-four laps to go, some teams took tires, while others took fuel only, and others had to stay in the pits to fix the windshield wipers or disengage the sway bars, if they hadn't already done so. Marcos Ambrose got caught speeding, on both the entry and exit on the pit lane. The drive through penalty didn't hurt him that much, as, after the pit stops cycled through, he came out in third. But third place was forty-seven seconds behind race leader Ron Fellows at that point.

Then the rain started to come down very hard. There is a point where the race just has to stop because of too much rain. The visibility was very bad, between the rain and the lack of light, so the caution came out. The visibility was so bad that Jaques Villeneuve hit the car in front of him, under caution, hard enough to damage his car beyond the ability to finish the race. This is where we learned that there is not much difference at all between a Villleneuve fan from Quebec and a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan from North Carolina. The stands more than half-emptied at that point as the disappionted Villeneuve fans decided the race was over for them.

As it turned out, the race was over for everybody. Joey Logano, who had been doing a spectacular job in his first road race and rain race, running as high as fifth, lost traction, still under caution, and hit the wall hard. NASCAR red-flagged the race with 23 laps to go, giving Fellows his fourth Nationwide Series victory. Not bad for a part-time driver.

NASCAR's first ever points race in the rain was not a disappointment. We really didn't think the 3400 lb cars could put on a decent show in wet conditions, but they did. It wasn't the jump-up-and- down-yell-at-the-TV-set good of the the races we saw at Phoenix, Talladega, Lowe's, Richmond, and Martinsville, but it was chuckle-in-appreciation-and-rub-the-hands-together-in-gleeful-satisfaction good. There was more action than anticipated, and less tragedy than expected. And plenty of drama.

NASCAR had to put on a good show after the Brickyard, and, even though it wasn't the best race ever, making history was good this time.


Ryan Newman Fan said...

I did not see the race but I have to agree that they got it right.

I started a new site and right now it is on my Ryan Newman Fan site and I will soon move it, but it is Racing News Digest at

Anyway I wrote in there last night that I think rain tires are a great idea and basically I applaud NASCAR for trying. I don't know how well it would be on Superspeedways but if you have 43 cars that can only go 100 mph instead of 200...then you still have a race.

I am sick of rain delays and races ending early due to rain.

So I am in favor of Rain Tires.

I realize the eventually last nights race was ended early due to the rain...but A+ for effort. To much rain is just to much rain and safety is the key.

RevJim said...

If it could be done, I would be all for it, but I don't think the tires would hold up on a superspeedway, even with water on the track to cool them down. There is much more rubber on rain tires than on racing slicks, and even at speeds as low as 100mph there would be a lot of heat build up, and it would be uneven. It would be nice if it could be done though.

Tim Zaegel said...

IMO, this was exactly what Goodyear needed after the tire fiasco they had at Indy.