The Frontstretch: Bowles-Eye : NASCAR Adjusts To The Freakiness Of Mother Nature by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday June 3, 2007

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Bowles-Eye : NASCAR Adjusts To The Freakiness Of Mother Nature

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday June 3, 2007

 

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat.

The raindrops hit softly against my window as I'm writing this within my Pennsylvania apartment. The rain should be a pleasant, calm reminder of a weekend gone by…instead, it's an uncomfortable replacement of the sounds of a race yet to begin.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Barry had time to dampen everyone's spirits at the track on Sunday, but I still feel like one of the lucky ones. Living just an hour and fifteen minutes from the track, I actually got to climb into my own bed after the letdown of a rain delay like Dover. Sadly, the majority of my NASCAR brethren are doing exactly the opposite - sleeping in hotel rooms for an extra night away from home, the third such time they've done so in the last five weeks. Right now, there's a new dominant force within the Nextel Cup world, and not even Hendrick Motorsports has the power to adjust against her fury. It's the grip of Mother Nature which has run roughshod over NASCAR this year with unprecedented regularity, and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon - as I write this, the seven-day forecast for Pocono currently has thunderstorms predicted for this coming Sunday.

It's been a natural disaster of epic proportions, both figuratively and literally. Races were rained out on consecutive weekends for the first time since 1992, and while there are no official rainout statistics, you'd likely need to go back to before NASCAR's modern era, where races were run more than once a week, to find such a high frequency of Cup races affected by weather. Of course, when you're fighting this type of unstoppable force, there are no winners - only rain-soaked fans, disappointed competitors, and frustration coming at the hands of people working overtime.

"Sometimes there's things that are just out of your control," said Team Red Bull competition director Elton Sawyer while accepting the inevitable. "As an industry, you just have to deal with it."

It's hard to quantify exactly how much a rain delay takes its toll on both driver and team. I can only describe it through my own personal experience - as someone who's worked both the television and writing side of this business, the adrenaline you receive on race day is unlike any other. Coming to the track, soaking in the atmosphere, and realizing that what you do will be either watched, analyzed, or read by more people than at anytime during the week, you have an unflappable ability to mentally prepare for being intensely focused.

That type of adrenaline someone in my position feels is just one tenth what these drivers and crews feel like during the buildup to the drop of the green flag. When that payoff never comes - with puddles, postponements, and procrastinating taking its place - it can be difficult to adjust, especially with the NASCAR grind facing just one more weekend off between now and the end of November.

“It’s just going to make it tougher on everyone," said David Ragan, "We’ve got a test scheduled for Road Atlanta on Tuesday and I’ve got to be in New York on Wednesday with some of my AAA friends in Buffalo."

"(A rain delay will) basically just take out my grass cutting and car washing day on Monday that I usually have; we’ll be up here racing. I’ll have to give my Mom a call and see if she can clean some clothes for me ‘cause as soon as we get back Monday night we’ll have to repack, head to Atlanta and then hopefully hop back on an airplane Wednesday morning and go to New York.”

Ragan isn't alone in his predicament; several drivers, crews, and media members are in the same boat. It's never easy to be on the road a significant length of time, and you treasure every opportunity you have to have those days off. Making them fewer and farther between puts a strain on everyone.

"Every team is in the same situation," said Sawyer. "It’s not that we’re any different than anybody else. As an industry, you just have to deal with it.”

Sadly, rainouts aren't really something NASCAR can fix; even though the organization played with using rain tires at the road courses a few years back, it's an impossible scenario to use them on an oval. Can you imagine the uproar if a driver got injured due to racing in the rain? So, that leaves everyone watching and waiting for the clouds to lift and the track to dry - literally stuck in the same boat.

Let's just not hope we need one to get around in Dover tomorrow and the race can go off without a hitch.

Other thoughts during a night of rain and reflection:

  • While several teams remaining outside the Top 35 prepare for a day of racing tomorrow, six others that did not qualify gain an extra day of having their full team back in North Carolina preparing their cars for Pocono. Is that an unfair advantage, considering several of those teams that made tomorrow's race are undermanned and simply don't have the same type of full crew working at the shop? Like Ward Burton's operation, for example; being a single-car, underfunded team, a rain delay puts them behind the eight ball with a significant portion of their organization still forced to stay at the track an extra day, while Michael Waltrip Racing has a whole crew dedicated to preparing the Pocono car back home.

Can something be done about this? Or did those teams that did not qualify back in North Carolina already get punished enough with the disappointment of a DNQ, and deserve the extra time to prepare for their next qualifying attempt? It's just something I've been thinking about in a year in which simply setting the starting field has become such a controversy.

  • How must you feel if you're Michael Waltrip right now? After four months of controversy, crisis, and disappointment, Waltrip was prepared to start his first race since Daytona this weekend - finally ensuring he'll finish the season with more points than you, me, or my friend's guinea pig named George. While I'm surprised George hasn't done better this season - he's got a real habit of getting behind the wheel and running at 3 in the morning - clearly, it's a situation where Waltrip is breathing a sigh of relief at finally getting his driving career back in a positive direction. Now, a year full of ups and downs has him waiting an extra day to get back in a race car - putting him even further out of rhythm in a pre-race preparation ritual he hasn't gone through since mid-February. Because of that, don't be surprised if the 400 miles takes a toll on Waltrip at the end of the race - Dover is a physically demanding track to say the least, especially for someone that hasn't been racing in so long. Just ask Ricky Rudd about his one-off experience filling in for Tony Stewart last year.
  • Things I'm tired of writing about : The tires (can't Goodyear ever get it right) and where Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can go. Every interview I've done, I get asked about it, everybody I know asks me about it. Let me tell you, there are so many rumors flying around, you can go with anything at this point: I've heard the Visa-Joe Gibbs rumor, the Ginn Racing rumor, and Junior saying "screw it" and starting his own team, among others. But why waste time reporting stuff when Junior clearly hasn't made his decision yet? To me, it's a waste of time; as far as I'm concerned, just leave the man alone and when he's ready to make his decision, he'll let us all know.

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Dr. Wolfgang Mohr
06/04/2007 05:14 AM
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Is this wussification since the good old days of Lee Petty? Rain never was a factor back then. Why not remember the origins of our beloved sport before “shaved” tires?
I used to race on the (extremely challenging) Nürburgring rain or shine. Formula One and other international race series are not afraid of water, too.

 

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