NASCAR race ends on wet weather tires: ‘I thought they were crazy and they proved me wrong’

The final 82 laps were conducted on wet weather tires and it prevented a rain shortened finish

Ultimately, fans will get to issue final judgement on the racing product — they always do — but NASCAR made every effort to give them something to chew over on Sunday evening at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

A race that would have ended prematurely, due to a passing storm front, was ushered to the literal finish line on wet weather tires. Specifically, the final 82 laps of the USA Today 301 were contested on ‘the wets.’

Keep in mind, these are not ‘rain tires’ and were only used once the storm ended but it took just 35 minutes to get the track dryish enough to ensure that drivers could race without spray impeding their vision.

The final 80 laps saw a lot of spinning, a multi-car crash, and NASCAR dictating when teams could come down pit road to bolt on a new set of wet weather tires. During cautions, drivers drove up against walls to cool tires, an odd sight to be sure.

At the same time, they raced all over the surface and it certainly got the race to end with no change over who seemed likely to win all along.

Holistically, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer deemed it a success, especially after it also got the Xfinity Series race started on time on Saturday.

“Well I think the way we started this whole wet weather tire process was basically we wanted to get our races started on time, and it really played into our hand yesterday getting the Xfinity race started on time,” Sawyer said. “And to get our races back to green as quick as possible if we had a delay, which we had today. Kudos to Goodyear.”

NASCAR did not have to send anyone home early, although some chose to during the thunderstorm, expecting the usual outcome over the past 75 years.

“Again, this was Jim France‘s vision of what wet weather tires could do,” Sawyer said of NASCAR’s CEO. “We ran 301-plus laps today, so it went into the overtime. Our fans that bought a ticket, they got to see some great, exciting racing.”  

Drivers seemed genuinely pleased with the product too, just as they were on this tire at North Wilkesboro last year and to start the race at Richmond in April.

Even before Christopher Bell won the race, he was one of the most excited to get back on track on the wet tires, saying ‘that’s why we have them’ and that he enjoys racing on a dynamic surface. It certainly suits a dirt racer’s natural instincts and Chase Briscoe echoed that sentiment too.

“I’m all for it,” Briscoe said. “I think we should do it more. I didn’t understand why we didn’t go green earlier, to be honest with you. The visibility was fine. This tire races well. You slide all over the place and it makes it easier to get the race restarted earlier.

“I think Goodyear is getting more aggressive with the tire and I hope they continue to as well.”

Kyle Larson echoed a lot of that as well.

“It’s fun to drive on a track with the conditions changing quickly and I think it was no surprise that you saw a lot of guys with a dirt background running up front there at the end,” he said.

Granted, he won, but Bell still endorsed the historic nature of finishing a race on wet tires and hoped it delivered for fans.

“For NASCAR to run in the rain like that — or not in the rain, but run in the damp conditions on an oval, I mean, it ended up being hopefully a good show,” Bell said. “You can answer that more than me, but I had a blast. It made it different.

“That’s what the key is to having successful races and entertainment. Hopefully that was entertaining because it was something different, something new, and nobody knew what to expect and what to do. The guys that figured it out the quickest were the most successful.”

His crew chief, Adam Stevens, said he was skeptical from Day One when NASCAR first started talking about having Goodyear develop a wet weather tires for short ovals.

“I thought they were crazy, and they proved me wrong for sure,” Stevens said.

“They did a really good job of coming up with a plan methodically of how wet was too wet. We tried all those gizmos with the wipers and the blinking lights and the mud flaps that didn’t do anything.

“They figured out once they got the water off the racetrack that you could run in it, you know, and that was probably the best way to dry the track too. Those are all boxes I never thought we would have checked from the way that that whole project started out, but kudos to them for being visionaries in that regard and Mr. France for pushing the limits.

“I don’t think there was probably a lot of support for that, but as we’ve narrowed in on what works, it’s pretty clear today that it worked.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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